It has been three years since CareSouth Hub development officer Natalie joined forces with Illawarra Sports High (ISH) to provide a feast, known as Meet & Eat, to the Berkeley community. On the first Thursday of each month, budding chefs from Illawarra Sports High – Year 12 students Harry and Jordon – turn CareSouth’s Community Hub into a communal restaurant serving three-course meals from around the world. There have been Mexican Fiestas, Chinese New Year, and St Patrick’s Day celebrations and of course Christmas feasts complete with glazed ham.

Harry and Jordan are studying their Certificate II in hospitality, and both gained early entry into prestigious Sydney cooking school Kenvale College of Hospitality, Cookery, and Events. Despite their busy schedule the students – with support from their Food Technology and Hospitality teachers – volunteer at Meet & Eat each month to create, prepare, cook and serve a themed meal for up to 70 members of the Berkeley community.

COVID-19 has meant that the monthly gathering has had to change its format to a takeaway, rather than a sit-down service, but numbers continue to increase as the economic impacts of the pandemic are felt across the region, but most heavily amongst the disadvantaged.
Natalie is happy to report that once the senior ISH students returned to school after lockdown they headed straight back into the kitchen to prepare meals, even though they are unable to serve them, for the Berkeley community.

“The ISH students used all the fresh produce from their school garden to make huge vats of vegetable soup, which they then donated to CareSouth to distribute to the Berkeley community,” said Natalie.
“It’s such a kind, thoughtful gesture. And it just goes to show how dedicated and passionate these students are, not just to cooking, but to helping their community.”

Natalie set up the successful partnership with ISH to not only give students hands-on experience, cooking for and serving such a large group of people in a short space of time, but to cater for the growing crowd who attend each month.

ISH Food Technology and Hospitality teacher Jane Jarman said partnerships like Meet & Eat are essential for students to broaden their skill set as well as their community participation in a safe, supportive environment.

“Our students have learned so many new skills, and not just cooking skills but life skills,” said Jane. “Programs like this are crucial for them to get hands-on experience. It’s a soft entry into the world of commercial cooking for students. It’s also really humbling and confronting for them to see how difficult life can be for other people, humbling because they realise how lucky they are.”

It is a sentiment that the students share.

“Working here and giving back is so important because CareSouth does so much to help the community,” said Harry, the Year 12 captain at Illawarra Sports High.

Jordan agrees: “It makes us feel good inside that we are able to do that. Meet & Eat gives us something to look forward to, there’s more to life than just worrying about yourself. Having the ability to do that makes you feel fulfilled inside and when the people we cook for see us out in the community they always say hi to us.”

So it was fitting when Jordan won the Illawarra and South East region Hospitality Student of the Year 2020 at the recent VET in Schools Awards in June. Harry was also highly commended in the same category.

“This award means a lot to me, I’ve always loved the hospitality industry,” said Jordan who works at Illawarra Sports High’s Café ISH, along with three part-time jobs in the hospitality industry, while also studying for his HSC and volunteering at CareSouth.