FORT BRAGG, CA., 11/22/22 — On Thanksgiving, the Fort Bragg Presbyterian Church will distribute an estimated 1,000 free prepared, packed and served meals to coastal community members. To support the church’s efforts, the Fort Bragg High School Culinary Arts Program prepared 25 pumpkin pies for the dinner. Chef-teacher Amy Valla guided 68 students through the process of making the pies, which were baked and then frozen. The pies were recently delivered to the church and on Thanksgiving, students will join the volunteer effort to slice and pack the pies for distribution.
This was the first year the school participated in the event, which has relied solely on donations from local businesses and home bakers to prepare desserts.
Valla and other school staff donated the ingredients for the pies, which after slicing will total one-fifth of the desserts to be distributed to residents. The meal also includes turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, bread, cranberry sauce, and more. The Culinary Arts Program prepares students for employment in food service and the hospitality industry. Valla teaches students everything from cooking and baking to customer service skills. The partnership between the church and school was a perfect pairing to put student’s skills into professional practice.
“I have always wanted to participate in this event,” Valla says. She was familiar with the event after serving on the board of the Little Lambs Preschool, where her son was a student. The preschool once operated under the umbrella of the Fort Bragg Presbyterian Church. However, it took a dog named Smokey to enlist Valla and her students for the event.
“Almost a year ago, my family and I got a new puppy named Smokey,” says Valla. Like many puppies, Smokey needed a touch of training to improve his social skills. The family called Scott Shepley, a Fort Bragg-based dog trainer. “We started talking and I told him where I worked and he asked if my students would want to make pies for the Community Dinner,” shares Valla.
As it turned out, in his free time Shepley helps to organize the dinner as chief steward. In his volunteer role, he procures the food served to thankful coast residents. And the coincidences didn’t end there. “Fast forward to summer when I met with Printha [Worthen] to talk about pies and make a plan. Turns out Printha was a former student of mine from when I used to teach at Mendocino College before Fort Bragg High School,” says Valla. Printha Worthen is the Community Thanksgiving Meal chairperson. From that moment the partnership of the Culinary Arts Program and the First Presbyterian Church was secured.
“We are so fortunate to have a program like this [Fort Bragg High School Culinary Arts Program] in our community — one that not only prepares our young community members for a bright future, but also generously contributes to a brighter today for our friends and neighbors,” says committee chair Worthen. “What a marvelous partnership…one that truly reflects the spirit of Thanksgiving.”
As to the pies that the students baked – Valla created the recipe herself – making it a real treat for those who get to enjoy a slice. “I don’t like the typical pumpkin pie recipe that calls for evaporated milk because the custard is always really runny, it makes too much and you spill half of it walking to the oven,” said Valla, “I came up with a new recipe that calls for sweetened condensed milk, less sugar, and it fits perfectly in a nine-inch pie shell.”
While there is no doubt the pies will be delicious, it’s a great opportunity for the students to share their talents and give back to the community. “I am so proud of my students,” says Valla.
Volunteers are needed to help prepare and pack meals, distribute and deliver meals, and provide clean-up support. Residents living from Westport to Albion can also request meals. Donations are also accepted. Visit the Fort Bragg Presbyterian Church’s website for more information.
Sarah Stierch covers wildfires, breaking news, and more for The Mendocino Voice. You can follow Stierch on Twitter and learn more about her work and donate to her directly at here. Contact Stierch at [email protected]. The Voice maintains editorial control and independence.