The Jeffrey P. Ossen Family Foundation provided CLiCK (Commercially Licensed Cooperative Kitchen) a grant to support the opening of its teaching kitchen in 2014, and has continued to support CLiCK’s mission to improve the quality of nutrition and culinary teaching in the Windham community and help address health concerns in our region. Initial grant funds enabled CLiCK to create, renovate, and equip the teaching kitchen facility, with the ultimate goal of serving underserved middle school children in the Windham area. CLiCK has since engaged with several local organizations in the area serving middle and high school age children, building partnerships so that the teaching kitchen can be a resource for the whole community. The Cocinar Communidad was one such program, which reached underserved Latinx children in the area. In this class students learned how to create healthy meal alternatives using indigenous ingredients from their culture. Puentes al Futuro is another example of Windham Middle School students utilizing CLiCK’s kitchen to enhance their culinary skills, this time partnering with Eastern Connecticut State University as well. This truly is a collaborative effort as Maria Los Angeles, one of the shining stars of CLiCK’s commercial kitchen operation, teaches the interactive class, covering everything from making fresh tortillas to the cultural variations of tamales.
The teaching kitchen has also facilitated relationships with Quinebaug Middle College, allowing students to create their own homemade roasted corn salsa using CLiCK garden ingredients and working with local chefs from CLiCK to brainstorm food business ideas. E. O. Smith Depot Campus high school students created value-added products at CLiCK and were encouraged to foster a spirit of entrepreneurialism. In the midst of these ever-growing teaching programs, CLiCK experienced a boiler catastrophe which needed immediate mending. Once again the Ossen Foundation was at the ready to save the day, providing CLiCK with a working boiler so that students could have a warm building and hot water for hand washing and cooking, without which the classes could not continue which the classes could not continue.
As the teaching kitchen programming continued to grow, the Ossen Foundation granted a request to fund a new Education Program Coordinator position at CLiCK, to further reach out in our community, engage the local school populations, and make the most of CLiCK’s kitchen resources. Since the fall of 2018, our new education coordinator has developed over 10 new community development classes with a focus on nutrition and education, specifically tailored to our community’s needs. Over the last four years the Ossen Foundation has supported 27 healthy cooking classes focused on Windham’s underserved populations, 10 store tours where local residents received guidance on healthy grocery shopping as well as a $25 gift card to the local grocer, a summer garden education series engaging students to plant, harvest, and process vegetables from our community garden, and a small job safety training program with Camp Horizons.
The teaching kitchen has also been utilized to develop the GROW Windham hot sauce product, as the youth from GROW Windham have worked with CLiCK master hot sauce maker Doug Crane on a signature Frog’s Breath Hot Sauce to sell at the Willimantic Farmers Market.
Overall, the support from the Ossen Foundation has directly assisted over 450 members of our community and we are looking forward to working with many more, supporting local youth in our mission to grow, cook, and share.