Redbank benefits from WEX, college partnership

SOUTH PORTLAND – Each month culinary students at Southern Maine Community College take on the challenge of creating a healthy, balanced meal for up to 150 residents of the Redbank neighborhood in South Portland.

The free community meal program, which is held the third Wednesday of the month, is funded by WEX, a local company that provides corporate payment solutions and purchasing aid to businesses around the world.

In addition to funding the program, WEX also provides the volunteers needed to set up the Redbank Community Gym, serve the food and clean up afterward.

Although WEX has offered the community meal program for the past four years, it recently upped its commitment by creating the Community Outreach Meals Fund.

This $5,000 scholarship, which is paid to Southern Maine Community College, is designed to underwrite the costs of student tuition, food and labor costs to prepare the meals, according to Clarke Canfield, director of communications at the college.

On April 16 culinary students Derek Haley and Dierdree Glassford put together a menu consisting of crudités (carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes and broccoli with ranch and honey curry dips), salad greens, barbecue chicken, black bean veggie burgers, classic potato salad, three-bean and corn salad, rolls, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, peach crisp and assorted cookies.

Through the scholarship program created by WEX, the culinary students at Southern Maine Community College gain experience and confidence in planning and preparing varied menus for a large crowd, according to Jill Hannaford, executive chef at the college’s McKernan Hospitality Center.

“Our students are exposed to the value of food and community coming together,” Hannaford said. “Their consciousness is raised about the strong impact of partnering with business, community organizations and educational institutions. (And we hope that) this experience will foster a desire to give back to the community.”

WEX and the Opportunity Alliance, a local community service agency, worked together to create the community meal program, which began in 2010. The goal was to bring together residents of Redbank Village, Brick Hill and other nearby low- and moderate-income neighborhoods.

Until this past fall, WEX supplied the food, as well, but now that the company has formalized its relationship with the community college, all meal preparation falls to select culinary students.

“WEX has always been passionate about giving back to the community,” said Frank Douglass, the company’s assistant treasurer. “We have worked with the Opportunity Alliance and the Redbank community for almost four years and I know firsthand how rewarding it is to give back.”

He added, “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 (fund).”

Derek Haley and Dierdree Glassford, culinary students at Southern Maine Community College, prepared the food for a community dinner held at South Portland’s Redbank Community Gym last week.Residents of the Redbank community in South Portland lined up last week for a meal of barbecue chicken and potato salad, which was prepared for them by culinary students at Southern Maine Community College.