Adonais Esquibel has spent his morning commute from Rio Rancho to Santa Fe planning which vegetables to chop and breads to bake.
Each school day over the past six months, the executive chef at Kids Kitchen has prepared breakfast, lunch and a snack for around 75 prekindergartners in United Way of Santa Fe County’s early childhood education programs as well as dinner for about 150 kids who participate in Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Fe/Del Norte.
And that was just a trial run.
The kitchen’s output is about to require a lot more planning.
This summer, organizers announced Wednesday at a grand opening event, Kids Kitchen will prepare meals to be distributed to 800 kids per weekday around the city. The joint venture between United Way and The Food Depot, a Santa Fe-based food bank that serves nine counties in Northern New Mexico, hopes to become a statewide model for how communities can fight hunger.
“When I got the call about this job, I was like, ‘Kids?’ I’ve never fed kids before.’ But helping underprivileged kids, giving back to the community, that resonated with me,” Esquibel said. “It’s worth driving from Rio Rancho every day.
“I hope we can expand to feed kids all over New Mexico,” he added. “Down south, out east — doesn’t matter. Everywhere there are kids who need help with hunger.”
Kids Kitchen is based at United Way’s Early Learning Center at Kaune. From there, Food Depot and United Way volunteers help distribute the hot meals throughout Santa Fe at no charge to families.
From Monday through Friday starting June 3, Food Depot Executive Director Sherry Hooper said, Kids Kitchen will deliver breakfast and lunch to United Way’s pre-K students, three Boys & Girls Clubs sites, and four city of Santa Fe sites that host summer camps and other youth programs.
In addition, Hooper said, the organization has made agreements with management at three mobile home communities and one rent-controlled apartment complex to deliver hot lunches and food baskets each weekday.
“Our goal is to provide 1,000meals a day,” Hooper said. “Once we hit that goal, then we’d love to do more.”
Along with providing daily meals, organizers are hoping to grow Kids Kitchen into a resource for aspiring chefs.
Esquibel said he has already hired two recent high school graduates looking for kitchen experience and hopes to build a relationship with culinary programs at Santa Fe Community College and public high schools.
“We work hard to provide short-term solutions to hunger, like a meal each day, but we really also need to look at longer-term solutions to hunger and what can we do to pull people out of poverty,” Hooper said. “That’s why we’re starting to explore opportunities to bring young adults into the kitchen and give them the training they need to find employment in a kitchen.”
During the Wednesday afternoon event, in which kids and other community members were invited to come try out the Kids Kitchen fare, Esquibel showed off a sample menu with nine meals. With fresh ingredients each morning, Esquibel said, his offering are a far cry from traditional school lunches.
“I’m not buying any chicken nuggets. I’m not buying any fish sticks,” he said. “Everything is handmade-from-scratch cooking.
“Fast food is a problem everywhere in this country,” Esquibel said, “and there’s not enough education on proper nutrition. I’m happy to be leading this charge for healthy, home-cooked meals. Out of this kitchen, you know what’s in your food.”