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JAMES QUIGG, DAILY PRESS
TURKEY CARVING: Elys Soto, far right, gets help from Sarahi Velazquez while carving a turkey in Victor Valley High School's culinary arts program Friday. Students are preparing 60 turkeys for the Victor Valley Rescue Mission's annual Thanksgiving meal.

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VVHS students make turkey dinner for 1,500

VICTORVILLE • Donning gloves and hair nets, cooks carefully cut picture-perfect slices of turkey that seemed to come straight out of the glossy pages of a magazine.

But these cooks are not professionals yet, nor are they getting paid.

They are the students in Kelli Valencia’s third-period culinary arts class at Victor Valley High School. These students have been earning school credits by preparing Thanksgiving dinner for the Victor Valley Rescue Mission, an endeavor that serves two purposes: feeding the needy and teaching about the inner-workings of a busy and fully functional kitchen.

Valencia said the students have prepared a total of 60 turkeys and 500 pounds of mashed potatoes, stuffing, yams, gravy and green beans. She said the students have also spent the past week and a half preparing 16 turkeys doing everything from pulling out giblets to making gravy.

“For them, it’s a winwin situation,” said Veronica Trujillo, volunteer coordinator for the Rescue Mission. “It’s incorporated as part of their curriculum.”

Valencia and the executive director of the Rescue Mission, Ron Wilson, came up with the idea earlier this school year, and together with the Victor Valley Union High School District, they have been providing about 100 home-cooked meals for the hungry five days a week. Mondays through Thursdays, the students cook a hot meal that is distributed at the Calvary Chapel in Victorville. On Friday’s, they prepare a balanced sack lunch that is distributed at New Beginnings Church.

“It’s good, homemade food and they cook so well,” Valencia said. “I tell my students, ‘if it wasn’t for you guys, they’d just get canned soup.’ ”

Wilson said that the event, which will be held at VVHS on Wednesday, is expected to serve close to 1,500 people.

“Space is unlimited as long as the weather holds up,” Wilson said of the meal, which is scheduled to have a helicopter landing, a visit from local fire departments, an ambulance from AMR and crafts for the children. “It’s unusual for schools to open their doors like this.”

All of the students in the culinary arts program at VVHS have to have their food-handlers permit, and most of them already have extensive experience with volunteering. One of Valencia’s best students, senior Elys Soto, said she has volunteered with her mother in soup lines since she was a little girl.

“I love doing work like this, it’s enjoyable and fun,” said Soto, whose own personal ambitions include opening up a philanthropic restaurant that sets aside a day or two a week to cook food for the homeless. To Soto, Valencia’s program has just reinforced her desire to give to the needy. Soto and many of her classmates share the same sentiment.

“This actually increased my love for food and helping others,” said senior Oscar Hernandez, who spends the majority of his school days in Valencia’s kitchen.

“I don’t think I’m doing some awesome thing, but if you can help people, you should help people,” Valencia said.

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