Dinner for some Philadelphia teens may come from corner stores or fast food restaurants, but the First United Methodist Church of Germantown aims to diversify the young person’s palette. Every Monday evening, the church, through its after school program, holds a dining session called “Dinner for Eight.”
The program started out as a way for ninth-graders at Germantown High School to have dinner after completing homework assignments, but quickly took off as a small culinary arts program. After-school program volunteer Donna Miller helped create the program and has watched it grow into a place where eight students each year can come to learn, cook and above all eat, granting the name “Dinner for Eight.”
“We started out having pizza and chicken… and it just killed me because I wanted to see them eat something that was good for them, so we decided we needed to cook,” Miller said. Now, students create healthy meals that include baked chicken, vegetable soups and spinach salads loaded with carrots and tomatoes.
Using the elements of the community around her, Miller shops at the local ACME grocery store on Germantown Avenue, using the after-school program’s budget to purchase the foods and supplies that the students will need for the night. From herbs to vegetables, Miller introduces the students to something new every week and strives to broaden their horizons to healthier food options and restaurants in the city.
Before food preparation however, the students bring in published restaurant reviews to critically read. In doing so, students learn vocabulary, how to describe foods and how to decipher the different types of courses. After eating, students write their own reviews of the meals that they prepared for and served each other.
Aside from eating a healthy meal, Miller said that one of the best aspects of the program is the bond that everyone forms. She said she has learned that being there for the students results in what she described as genuine respect and affection.