What’s Cookin’ in Central?

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By Jeanie Barnett

 It’s that time of year again.  The grass is green, the hummingbirds are back and the hearts of the people of Central are a little bit bigger.  Since the spring of 2006 the good folks of our community have worked together to raise over $1 million for school children.   

      It all started with that very sad and helpless feeling we all shared in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina.  A handful of Central individuals decided to organize an effort to make a difference in the lives of the students of the devastated Chalmette schools.  By reaching into their resources, their hearts and deeply into their pockets, twenty or so volunteers staged an event, Cookin’ for Our Neighbors that raised $191,000 towards purchasing three school buses.  The apt phrase “The Spirit of Central” is printed on the plaques that adorn these busses.

      From Cookin’ for Our Neighbors to Cookin’ for Our Kids, the annual spring event has outgrown St. Alphonsus, the old Winn Dixie parking lot and is likely to outgrow its current venue, The Village at Magnolia Square by 2011. 

      I attended a planning meeting for this year’s event.  While the camaraderie among the attendees was casual, the agenda was thorough and systematic.  Louis DeJohn guided the group through the five and a half color coded pages of highly organized information and action items.  Well over 80 volunteers mesh together with the efficiency of the cogs in a well oiled machine.  These dedicated people know what they’re doing, they love what they’re doing, and they do it well. 

      The non-profit organization, Cooking in Central was incorporated in February of 2007.  While it maintains a nine member steering committee, no assets including property or funds can be retained by any individual.  No one receives a salary, fee, stipend, favors, goods or services for their volunteer hours or cash or non cash donations.  They bring their skills and efforts and walk away with nothing other than the satisfaction of having made a difference.

      Considering revenues from previous years and the presales of tee shirts and tickets, DeJohn predicts that Central’s public schools and participating private and parochial schools will receive over $100,000 this year.  Each school has made a wish list including such things as computers, library books and playground equipment.  Of the remainder, $10,000 will be dedicated towards humanitarian efforts including Blue Star Moms and Gold Star Moms.  A maximum $5,000 will be retained in the accounts to seed next year’s event.  Any remaining balance will held in an account to provide or improve grounds for future events.

      There is a long term agreement being negotiated between the Cooking in Central Corporation and a local ministry to provide surface rights to a parcel of land sufficient to accommodate this yearly fund raiser.  This would be a mutually beneficial agreement that would give Cookin’ for Our Kids a permanent home. 

      Come enjoy Cookin’ for Our Kids 2010 on Friday and Saturday April 16th and 17th.  A schedule of events is included in this issue.  Know that while you are enjoying good food and a good time, you are also seeing Central citizens at their best.  Dedication, hard work and a sense of community make, “The Spirit of Central” more than just a line on a school bus plaque.