2014-04-18 / Community

SMCC, Wex, join to offer meals to community residents

Southern Maine Community College students are helping

bring together communities with their cooking through a new scholarship offered by WEX Inc.

WEX has created a $5,000 fund that allows students to attend SMCC and cook monthly dinners for people in a multicultural neighborhood in South Portland.

Each month, two culinary arts students prepare a balanced, nutritious meal for up to 150 people. Volunteers from WEX serve the meals at Redbank Community Gym the third Wednesday of each month.

Through the scholarship, students gain experience and confidence in planning and preparing varied menus for a large crowd, said Jill Hannaford, executive chef at SMCC’s McKernan Hospitality Center.

“Our students are exposed to the value of food and community coming together,” said Hannaford, who oversees the students and the meal preparation. “Their consciousness is raised about the strong impact of partnering business, community organizations and educational institutions. This experience will foster a desire to give back to the community.”

The meal program was started in 2010 by Opportunity Alliance community service agency to bring together residents of Redbank Village, Brick Hill and nearby low- and moderate-income neighborhoods in South Portland.

Working with residents, Opportunity Alliance organized the meals and WEX supplied food and volunteers to serve them. WEX, based in South Portland, is a publicly traded company that provides corporate payment solutions across a wide spectrum of business sectors.

SMCC students began preparing the meals last fall, with WEX paying the cost of the food and WEX employees serving the meals. WEX has now formalized the relationship with SMCC with the WEX & SMCC Community Outreach Meals Fund, which pays for student tuition and food and labor costs to prepare the meals.

“WEX has always been passionate about giving back to the community,” said Frank Douglass, WEX assistant treasurer. “We have worked with Opportunity Alliance and the Redbank community for almost four years and I know firsthand how rewarding it is to give back. We are very excited to welcome SMCC into this partnership and to provide a program that will give students real-life experience in addition to a scholarship.”

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