By Paul O'Rourke

Montrose Bay High School has produced 50,000 ready-to-eat meals for Loaves and Fishes Tasmania since 2013 when four students gathered around a single hot plate in the sewing room and started cooking.

The school collects fresh produce five mornings a week from the Loaves and Fishes Tasmania warehouse in Glenorchy, repurposes the food into gourmet meals, then donates the meals back to the emergency food provider for distribution through charity partners.

The dishes are so good that emergency food recipients specifically ask for the Montrose Bay meals by name.

The school has also found the time to produce 500 serves of Rocky Road slice for inclusion in our Christmas Day hampers being distributed by Colony 47 in Hobart and Hope at St Paul's Kitchen in Devonport.

The dozens of students now involved weekly in the supercharged emergency food relief program produce up to 300 meals a week from the school’s commercial-quality kitchen. At the height of COVID-19, the school made a staggering 1000 meals a week for Tasmanians doing it tough.

“It all began with four kids who were struggling in class, a hot plate, one big pot and a crate of vegetables,” said Nigel Walsh, who has managed the cooking program since those faltering days in 2013.

“We made vegetable soup, and it wasn’t great, but it was a start.

“These days, cooking is one of the biggest electives in the school.”

Nigel, who is a former food and beverage manager at Moorilla Estate winery, said about 1000 students had passed through the program in the past seven years, some going on to careers in the hospitality field.

In addition to main meals for Loaves and Fishes, the kitchen provides breakfast twice a week for students, caters for in-school events, makes a range of jams and sauces, and produces sweet treats for inclusion in the annual Colony 47 Christmas hampers for vulnerable Tasmanians.

Loaves and Fishes Tasmania general manager, Aaron Kropf, who started the program with Nigel Walsh when he worked for SecondBite, said the partnership was one of his proudest achievements.

“Montrose Bay High School was the first of its kind in Tasmania. The longevity and expansion of the program there has been incredible rewarding and resulted in several other schools following suit,” he said.

“The Montrose Bay cooking program has thrived because of the passion of Nigel Walsh, a fervour that has never wavered over the years.

“It’s a program we want to expand state-wide as a practical means of helping students to develop a love of cooking and hospitality, while providing life and work skills and producing an end product that pays it forward to our neighbours.

“That is incredibly powerful.”

The school community has consistently raised funds through food sales, quiz nights and silent auctions to buy additional food and equipment for the Montrose Bay program.

Teachers, parents and students are proud and of the school’s achievements.

Acting principal Cath Apanah said the partnership with Loaves and Fishes gave students an opportunity to experience the satisfaction of being able to “give back’’.

“The program also gives students a reason to feel good about coming to school. It builds skills and confidence and a wonderful sense of teamwork and community within our school,” she said.

Loaves and Fishes Tasmania gives an annual award for the most outstanding student.