LBCC Culinary Program Helps Feed Fire Evacuees

Albany, Oregon -Josh Green’s culinary arts students at Linn-Benton Community College usually learn to roll fresh pasta, grind their own hamburger and make sourdough bread from scratch.
 
But when you’re trying to feed 200 to 500 people who have been displaced by a series of giant wildfires, you use what you’ve got - even if it’s instant mashed potatoes.
 
Green and eight of his students, current and former, are volunteering their time at the Linn County Fair & Expo Center to help keep the meals coming for people who fled fires roaring through the Santiam Canyon and other parts of Oregon.
 
The volunteers started last week in the Salvation Army’s kitchen truck, then moved inside to the fairgrounds’ concession stands. They feed upwards of 200 people at the Linn fairgrounds and then send another 300 meals to Benton County.
 
“You know, it’s less about teaching them and more about doing what we can to help,” said Green, the Culinary Arts department chairman and a member of the faculty.
 
“Normally, I wouldn’t let them take a package of just-add-water gravy and use it, but here it's, ‘What's easy?’” he went on. “We don't have a lot of stuff to use, so we just have to do whatever we can to get stuff done."
 
The culinary program got her ready for just this type of experience, said volunteer Katelynn Omete, who graduated in June from Green’s program. 
 
“Through the culinary program, you’re taught to work with what you’ve got, because things can come in bad or things can not come in at all,” she said. “It’s good to know what you can substitute.”
 
Green grew up in Lyons and spent his youth camping, hiking, hunting and fishing up and down Santiam Canyon. His father and stepmother are Lyons residents who evacuated when emergency responders put the area at Level 2.
 
"It’s my community. I grew up there. It's important to me to go up and help anywhere I can,” Green said. 
 
Helping by feeding people is what comes naturally, he added. “It’s what I love to do. Being in the kitchen is my element, better than sorting or cleanup. I can be most useful. This is what I’ve done my entire life.”
 
Green is going into his fifth year teaching Culinary Arts at LBCC. Before that, he was in charge of the food service program at Willamette University, serving as executive chef for four years and executive sous chef for six. He came to Willamette after working as a chef at the Hilton in downtown Portland.
 
The food industry draws him, he said, because of the daily challenges.
 
“I liked that it wasn’t the same thing every day. Every single thing, I was doing something different,” Green said. “Also, there’s an infinite amount of things to learn. You can never learn all there is to know about food and how to prepare it.”
 
One of the things to learn is how to adapt quickly to a rapidly changing environment, which is exactly the situation at the Expo Center.
 
Green’s last job was with a management company called Bon Appetit, which sends chefs to set up new accounts. Coming in to take over for a different food service company means not necessarily knowing in advance what you have to work with and who’s supposed to do it, but you still have to go in and get it done.
 
“It’s high stress, you’re on your feet, you’re moving, going, getting things to work, figuring out a new plan,” he said. “I call it controlling chaos. I really like that. Go in there and control the chaos.”
 
His students are learning that same fast-paced, high-volume end of the business through their volunteer service at the Expo Center, Green said. And they’re putting their skills to work, even if they aren’t baking their own hamburger buns. 
 
For instance, he said, the volunteers roasted several chickens one day and one of the students saved the drippings to add to the instant potatoes instead of water. 
 
“They’re taking those skills they learned making things from scratch and applying them the best they can to making good food,” Green said.
 
They do joke with one another and with the coordinator of the effort at the fairgrounds, Lt. Charles DeJesus of the Albany Corps of the Salvation Army, who does most of the grocery runs.
 
"Charles will say, anything I can get you? ‘Yeah, can we get some foie gras?’” Green said, laughing. “Because it’s not the kind of food we’re used to doing.”
 
DeJesus put out a short video on Facebook asking for help with the meals for evacuees, which is how Green knew of the need. 
 
Green saw the video on Wednesday and sent DeJesus a message: “Hey, I'm a chef, I can cook anything, I can rally people up.” 
 
He didn’t hear back, but showed up Thursday morning anyway with his chef jacket and a bagful of knives and culinary tools. He has returned ever since, planning menus, rallying volunteers and setting work schedules.
 
“He’s been invaluable,” DeJesus said. “He has been exactly what someone in my position would want to establish prior to an emergency. He’s a great reflection of a solid Oregonian and a very solid reflection of LBCC.”
 
Green brought in helpers by tapping his connections with students, friends, colleagues and other culinary professionals. 
 
With permission from the college dean, he brought in some of LBCC’s kitchen inventory and used some of the money from the co-curricular culinary club to help purchase supplies. He also used LBCC’s Instagram and Facebook pages and sent his phone number to anyone who might respond. 
 
“I just started corralling people,” he said. “Everyone just started rallying around me and started showing up to help.”
 
Omete didn’t hesitate when she saw Green’s posts.
 
“I saw a need and I have the ability and it really hit close to home,” she said. “It’s the reason why I got into the culinary field, to feed people and love them through food, so it was a perfect opportunity.” 
 
Omete is trying to take over for Green as the volunteer scheduler when he goes back to work at the community college on Wednesday. People with food handlers’ cards and large-scale culinary experience are particularly needed for cooking, but all volunteers are welcome to be servers and dishwashers, she said. 
 
DeJesus said he’s also in need of donations of bulk ingredients, whatever might feed multiple hundreds. 
 
Green said he’s spending his last few days as a volunteer helping to get as much set up in advance to keep things running smoothly.
 
“We don't have any idea how long this is going on,” he said.
 

Linn-Benton Community College offers an Associate of Applied Science degree in Culinary Arts, and an Associate of Science degree in Nutrition and Food Service. Learn more. Fall term begins September 28; advisors are available to help walk new students through the process of enrolling.

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