March 4, 2010 10:24 Age: 4 yrs

First-Year Students Become Chefs for Charity

A group of first-year Emory Law students tested their cooking skills when they volunteered to prepare meals for children and families staying at the Atlanta Ronald McDonald House last month. The event was organized by Ben Katz 12L, a regular volunteer with the organization.

The Ronald McDonald House, near Emory’s campus, is a residential facility for families with children receiving medical treatment in one of Atlanta’s hospitals.

“I thought it would be a good idea to get Emory students into the house to see what they do,” Katz said. “When you get to law school you get caught up in 1L life and studying, and you lose touch with the real world. I had this opportunity to volunteer at the house once a week, and I wanted other students to get in there.”

Katz pitched the dinner idea to four friends, and suddenly there was a group of law students ready to volunteer.

“I was thinking, how am I going to find enough people willing to give up their night to do this,” said Melissa Softness 12L, “but the first people I asked said yes. So many people wanted to do it, and I was worried about not having enough.”

“We had an overwhelming amount of students. I had to turn people away,” Katz said. “They don’t allow more than 14 people in the kitchen at one time to prepare a meal, so only a limited the number of students could participate.”

Eventually, they decided on four teams of seven to cook for two nights.

“Ben knows I love to cook, and I was glad to accept the opportunity to cook for charity with my friends,” said Gabrielle Mercadante 12L.

Meals ranged from a traditional Southern dinner—complete with fried chicken, collard greens and blueberry cobbler—to pizza, spaghetti and tacos.

“We were afraid it was a bit ambitious, especially since the fried chicken was a first attempt,” said Ruth Dawson 12L of her team’s meal, “but, we got rave reviews.”

“I think all of us really enjoyed the fact that we were able to cook a meal that the kids and families would not have every day,” said Winston Gu 12L, whose team created a Mexican-themed dinner. “I always like to see the smile on people's faces after they've had something amazing to eat.”

Although the children did not participate in the cooking, “we did have a very curious 2-year-old girl come and supervise us for a while,” Dawson said. “We could tell she had been staying at the house for some time and was the queen of the kitchen.”

The students set up the dinners, sponsored by the Emory Law Food Club, as a Top Chef-style competition. Emory Law’s Assistant Dean for Student Affairs Katherine Brokaw participated as a judge for one of the night’s competitions. Though, as Katz explained, it was difficult to declare a winner.

“All four teams worked so hard, a lot harder than I imagined, that I just couldn’t choose,” he said.

The students hope to continue the dinners at the Ronald McDonald House, and other Emory Law student organizations have offered to sponsor future outings.

"I was so proud of our law students for initiating and implementing this volunteer project," said Brokaw. "The law school encourages students to reach out to our community. Ronald McDonald House is a beautiful facility, and I hope our students will continue volunteering there.”

“Cooking for the Ronald McDonald House reconnected us stressed out, somewhat myopic 1Ls with service and the community,” Dawson said. “We were laughing and working together, solely focused on making good food for families under the much more real stress of caring for an ill child.”

More photos of the dinners can be found here.

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