Local chef, culinary students help those in need this Thanksgiving

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published November 24, 2015

 Ele Shepherd, a hospitality studies instructor at the Michael Berry Career Center in Dearborn Public Schools, prepares meals at the high school.

Ele Shepherd, a hospitality studies instructor at the Michael Berry Career Center in Dearborn Public Schools, prepares meals at the high school.

Photo by Sarah Purlee

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — As families sit down this holiday week, heaping plates with turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and more, the unfortunate truth is that not everyone can experience this bounty.

That’s why Chef Darrel Shepherd, his family and some of his students in the South Lake High School culinary arts program took time a few weeks early to prepare a Thanksgiving feast for hundreds of people in need in the city of Detroit.

“It was really rewarding because you see families, children, people of all different levels of economic strata in Detroit,” Shepherd said. “They’re so grateful. It really is a rewarding experience for all of us.”

Shepherd said his mother, Ele Shepherd, who is a hospitality studies instructor at the Michael Berry Career Center in Dearborn Public Schools, instilled in him early on that those who are more fortunate need to take the opportunity to give back to those who don’t have the same opportunities.

“It was just something we did every year on Thanksgiving. That’s the way my mom brought us up,” he said. “My mom raised us as, we were fortunate and it was our duty as fortunate people to share that.” 

That’s why Shepherd, his wife, Mary, his daughter, Alexis, and his mother, as well as Marsha Salome — the culinary arts program’s paraprofessional — and volunteers from Mary Shepherd’s employer, Expeditors International of Washington Inc. in Romulus, delivered 300 hot Thanksgiving meals to the Neighborhood Service Organization on Third Street in Detroit Nov. 14. 

The meals were made with help from all of the culinary arts students at South Lake, and assembled from 7 a.m. to noon with help from five students, who volunteered to come in and cook on a Saturday morning.

Darrel Shepherd said he first involved his students with the project in 2014, when he partnered with the Eimers Foundation to deliver the meals. This year, he said, they arranged for delivery on their own, but his students loved the opportunity to help others. 

“It gives you a feeling of well-being and satisfaction. I wanted to share that with my kids. It helps them look outside their circumstances and see that there are other people they can help,” he said. “When you give high school students the opportunity to do something kind or good, they’ll take it.”

The students and Shepherd prepared more than 300 Thanksgiving meals with turkey, dressing, collard greens, candied yams, mashed potatoes and gravy and, with the use of the school district’s truck, brought it downtown — still hot — to deliver. The school, the Woods Church (which holds services in the school building) and Expeditors International of Washington Inc. also collected more than 200 blankets and 100 coats to be distributed as well. 

 Mary Shepherd said that the donated items all found new homes in 40 minutes, and that it was rewarding to see families and children coming forward to find items that they liked and would help keep them warm this winter.

“It really kind of morphed from trying to help feed the community where there was a need, to involving students and giving them something more beyond themselves,” she said.

She said she’s amazed at how large of a project the “Giving Thanks” day has grown into, since it began just as a family event with four people participating.

Darrel Shepherd said they always bring Thanksgiving dinner a few weeks early to make sure the homeless are remembered on more than just one day.

“Thanksgiving is a busy day for contributions. Everyone wants to go down on Thanksgiving and help out,” he said. “A week or two before, people are still in need, so that’s why we chose a couple weeks ahead of time.

“As culinary (arts teacher) and chef, food is our tool to change the world, and if we can feed somebody or make somebody’s day brighter with food, it’s rewarding for us,” Shepherd said. “My students don’t come from means. There are a lot of working-class kids here. When they have the opportunity to give back, they love it. 

“They really enjoy it and they embraced it.”

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