by Janice Zimolzak

In August of 1992, a three-year old boy entered the Emiliano Zapata kindergarten in Ejido de Tirado, a low-income community near the railroad station. Valentín Patlán was one of the 200 children who received a Feed the Hungry school meal every day during his three years of kindergarten and six years of elementary school. Today, Valentín is the chef at Feed the Hungry, creating the recipes for the meals that the children in Emiliano Zapata and 26 other schools receive every school day.

“Back then, I didn’t know anything about Feed the Hungry. I just knew that Estadounidenses brought groceries to my school every week; I didn’t think much about it, that’s just how things were. My mother was happy because I was eating well, and happy because she didn’t have to give me money for lunch,” said Valentín. “She told me to eat the lunch they gave me at school, and so I did. Today I understand how much those meals helped me.”

Getting healthy foods into children is no easy task, as any mother can attest. Even hungry children are discerning about the foods they will eat. Valentín draws from many sources to create tasty meals that children will readily consume. Beginning with a list of ingredients that need to be included in a week’s worth of healthy meals, he draws on food-combining he learned in the gastronomy classes he attended at a local university familiar flavors from his culture, and famliar ingredients from his mother’s table, which he artfully combines into simple but nutritious recipes. Once satisfied with the nutrition value and flavor, he teaches the Feed the Hungry cooks how to prepare them.

Even as a child, Valentín was drawn to food preparation. His father worked as a cook, and he liked spending time in the kitchen with him. As soon as he was old enough, he began working as a waiter to pay for his studies. He was one of the lucky ones; his parents impressed upon him the importance of an education, so he knew he must finish high school. But it was not until he heard about the gastronomy course that he realized the goal of his education. Staying in school is what he talks about to the little ones when he visits the Feed the Hungry kitchens. Visiting with the children and seeing the smiles on their faces as they finish their lunch is the best part of his job. Valentín has broken the cycle of poverty in his family and is repaying his succes with the extra effort that he makes with every child he encounters.

Please support Feed the Hungry’s “Back to School” campaign. Every dollar and every peso helps put healthy food onto the plate of a hungry child.