West Grove Garage Gets Grant for Kitchen

By: Chester County Press

October 23'rd, 2015

Walking into the happy chaos of about 100 teens and preteens all talking at once, representatives from State Farm Insurance brought some big news to the Stone Garage in West Grove on Oct. 22. The community and youth center that's an after-school haven for hundreds of area students will be getting a $55,800 grant from State Farm to install a commercial-grade kitchen. The Kennett Garage will be getting a similar set-up.

The idea is to teach young people how to shop for fresh ingredients, prepare nutritious meals, and to share those ideas with their families at home. The reward is fostering better nutrition for a low-income community that too often relies on fast food, teaching teens lifelong skills, and possibly sparking the career of a future superstar chef or two.

But on Thursday afternoon, it was time for the grant announcement and a photo or two.

Kristin Proto, the executive director of the West Grove Garage, smiled and said, “Food in general is a popular activity for this age group. But for us, making sure that kids know what nutritious meals they can create for themselves is more important. They're eventually going to be able to make snacks and meals for other organizations and take them to the community. For instance, Family Promise is opening right around the corner. That's a homeless shelter. The kids will be able to make a meal and take it up there for families in need. And the kids can learn skills that they can hopefully use as a career one day, or just in their homes.”

The Garage currently has a kitchen counter, microwave and a blender, and things like chips and cookies are available. But putting in a stove will bring a whole new dimension to the lives of the teens who go there – 90 percent of whom come from impoverished backgrounds.

State Farm agent P.J. Mullin spoke briefly to the crowd of teens. “You guys are the next generation of our community leaders, and we're really proud of you guys for what goes on here at the Garage,” he said. “Your organization was one of six in Pennsylvania to receive a Youth Advisory Board grant.”

The State Farm Youth Advisory Board is made up of 30 students, ages 17 to 20, from the United States and Canada, and they have granted more than $36 million since the board began in 2006, reaching 520 communities. Every year, they allocate $5 million in grants to projects like the Garage.

State Farm public affairs specialist Dwayne Redd said it's the company's way of giving back. “It's an opportunity for us to invest back in the community and help these students understand that making healthy choices is a cool thing,” he said.

Proto said now that the funding is in place, it's time to secure the equipment, line up contractors and go through all the licensing steps required.

“We do have to go through the health department to get certified,” she said. “We've been in contact with them and they're really supportive and excited for us. We have to get certified as food handlers to make sure we're doing everything safely. We'll need to get inspections completed, but we're confident and really excited to get started.”

She expected the kitchen to be up and running, with a little luck, by early next year.

To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email jchambless@chestercounty.com.