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Compassion the perfect ingredient

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They may be just 12 years old, but these compassionate cooks are stepping up to the hot plate to help tackle poverty and disadvantage.

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The Year 6 students from Rostrevor College are part of a growing army of young school chefs who are taking direct action to help those much older than them who are doing it tough.

Rostrevor is among a growing number of schools which have joined up with St Vincent de Paul Society to cook for its Fred’s Van food service, which provides 40,000 warm and nutritious meals each year from eight sites around metropolitan Adelaide and two in regional SA.

Primary teacher Michael Monda said in addition to encouraging students to think about people living in poverty and taking direct steps to help, the initiative taught boys practical cooking skills they could take into their teenage and adult years.

He said in a society where young people often expected continuous praise and instant feedback, it was good to help someone who couldn’t thank them in return.

“It’s a simple, selfless act that can really make a difference to the lives of others,” Mr Monda said.

In a recent cook up at the school, 17 boys prepared more than 10kg of lasagne and a similar quantity of fried rice which were ferried by Vinnies SA to a Fred’s Van at Elizabeth, where demands for food are increasing, especially over winter.

Young Alessio Fantasia said the initiative had taught him that poverty and disadvantage could happen to anyone.

“I know I’m going to get a good meal every night and, until recently, I didn’t realise that other people sometimes might not get to eat for a couple of days,” Alessio said.

“Children can’t give money to the homeless, but we can cook and we can give them clothes and toys and other things they may need.”

Vinnies SA Schools and Community Engagement Coordinator, Jayne Shortt, said part of her role was to break down the stereotypes surrounding poverty and explain why so many people needed Fred’s Van’s services.

“People think that poverty is experienced only by those people on welfare, who don’t want to work or have a drug or alcohol problem,” Ms Shortt said.

“But, it can be people with disabilities; people who can’t work because they are sick. They may have had a good job or career, but were struck by cancer or had a terrible injury – there are all kinds of reasons why a person can suddenly find themselves in a desperate situation.”

Ms Shortt said a growing number of schools were putting their hands up to help Fred’s Van because its volunteer service had an immediate and practical impact, and schools had the kitchen facilities needed.

“Someone, who might otherwise have gone without a meal, will get to eat today and that readily translates to young people,” she said.

“As an individual, we can’t save the world and can’t help everybody, but we can help some people and that’s where the difference is made.”

Mr Monda said the cook-up was part of an ongoing education initiative centring on morality and social justice and included an examination of the work of the St Vincent de Paul Society.

Fred’s Van is named after the Society’s founder, the French academic and philanthropist Frédéric Ozanam, who in Paris in the 1830s began encouraging fellow students to join him in acts of service and generosity to support the poor.

Fred’s Van outlets include Salisbury, Elizabeth, Gawler, Christies Beach, Aldinga, Kilburn, Semaphore and the city.

Some of the schools currently supporting a Fred’s Van food service include:

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