Over the Rainbow

How Marge Perry’s “happy accident” helped teens make healthier choices
By Amy Vergin

The passion Marge Perry has for all things culinary is obvious when you talk about her cooking program at the Kip’s Bay Boys and Girls Club in the Bronx. The club is a nonprofit organization that provides programs and activities for kids from 6 to 18 that “instill a sense of competence, a sense of belonging, and a sense of power and influence,” according to their website.

Perry, who started her career in the business world, fell in love with cooking while attending the Institute of Culinary Education at night. She soon transitioned to teaching at a cardiac rehab hospital, training patients on how to cook healthy meals.

From the hospital Marge went to City Harvest, an organization that runs programs in underserved areas. In Cooking Matters, one of their many programs, she taught kids and homeless mothers about nutrition and how to cook.

According to Marge, “It was sort of a happy accident in some ways that I ended up at Kip’s Bay.” At the time, Kip’s Bay did not have any kind of cooking class or serious nutrition instruction. When Marge became aware of the need she asked if she could instruct a class, and the club quickly agreed.

Marge soon realized she had little to work with. Kip’s Bay gave her space to work, but beyond that she was on her own. She was surprised by the generosity of people willing to help her acquire the necessary tools. While Marge was in Alaska with a friend from the Copper River Marketing Association, fishermen asked her about the program. “I didn’t even ask, they just donated to the program!” Marge said. “They donated not only cans of wild Copper River salmon for the class but enough so that each kid could take a can home. The kids were thrilled.” After that she received donations from Oxo for all their tools and knives, while Meyer Corporation donated pots, pans, and portable burners.

“It’s really incredible. The generosity of everyone who donated, and the kids themselves are just so inspiring and so great and so much fun to work with,” said Perry.

With kids in the class, the program was up and running. The class is for kids nine to 12 and focuses on cooking and nutrition, which Marge feels is necessary for children to learn about early in life.

“Through my work at City Harvest and also through my work as a journalist, I had seen studies and the remarkable results in a person of what happens when kids are exposed to healthier foods and cooking at a young age. When they have an interest in cooking, they make healthier choices and are more thoughtful about what they eat in general. And in this group it’s really important that these kids have the opportunity to learn how to take care of themselves well. A lot of this is about being able to take care of yourself, and being good to yourself,” said Marge.

The best part for Marge is watching each child’s strengths emerge through the program. “Their inner strengths came out. Whatever they are, not necessarily related to food, they were able to express them through cooking.”

The program just entered its second phase, working with students from her first class to take their newfound knowledge to the next level. From there, Marge plans to teach another introductory session with a new set of kids.

More equipment is necessary, but for now she is utilizing the generous gifts that have already been given to her. If you are interested in reaching out to Marge and donating to the program, contact her through her blog, asweetandsavorylife.com.