McALLEN — The South Texas College Culinary Arts Department held a virtual bake sale this week, cooking up an idea to help raise funds for its student food pantry at its three campuses.

Chef Nadia Casaperalta, an instructor, and Karen Cabrera, a student, prepared dinner rolls Tuesday afternoon for South Texas College’s virtual bake sale in McAllen.
(Francisco E. Jimenez | fjimenez@themonitor.com)

The funds raised will be used to provide canned grocery items to combat food insecurity within the student body, but the sale also provided a unique experience for the baking and cooking programs at the college.

“This is the first year we’ve done the bake sale,” Jennifer Guerra, chef and chair for the department, said. “In prior years, we’ve done what was our ‘Thanks-for-Giving Buffet.’ For a donation to the food pantry, people could come and enjoy the buffet. It was always a great event with music, and there were a lot of people and activity. Obviously COVID changed that.”

In considering what could be done, Guerra said they decided on a virtual bake sale to limit the number of students working at one time. She added that it would also assist them in distributing the baked goods over a long period of time, “so that we don’t have a collection of people, but it still gives us a great opportunity for our students.”

The department sent out order forms to faculty, staff and administration about a week ago. They were able to place their orders online.

Guerra said the response was good enough to help the department raise $3,500.

“I was worried because we have so many virtual classes right now that there’s not a lot of bodies on campus,” she said. “I wasn’t sure what our response would be. But we’ve raised close to $3,500 selling cookies, so we’ve had a great response.”

The response was such that the department found itself filling orders for over 300 dozen cookies, 100 dozen dinners, 125 pies and 150 loaves of bread. Guerra said that talks have already commenced regarding next year’s fundraisers.

“We’ve already had those conversations about how we might be able to translate this into another event either next semester or next year,” Guerra said. “Really that’s what we’re always doing in this program — figuring out how to reinvent ourselves. Obviously, COVID forced our hand a little more than usual, but it’s always been part of our process to change the way that we do things to improve our instruction and improve the experience for our students, and obviously serve our community.”

The culinary department offers certifications and associates degrees in its baking and cooking programs. Among those taking advantage of the opportunity to gain experience from the mass productions of the bake sale was Miguel Escalante, 32, of Edinburg, a culinary arts student with a specialty in cooking.

“It’s been an inviting and rewarding experience knowing that this food is going to families and people that are going to enjoy this delicious homemade food,” Escalante said in between preparing Oreo crust chocolate cream pies. “I’m glad to be part of it and helping out however I can.”

He said that he hopes to someday open a restaurant of his own and use the experiences gained through STC’s culinary department to bring new flavors to the Rio Grande Valley.

“I’m getting experience with consistency, the same products over large quantities and batches to ensure that everyone, every time, gets that same first bite experience that they had,” Escalante said. “Same seasoning, same flavor, everything portioned out. I want to learn about flavors and dishes that are outside the Valley and incorporating them into the Valley — bringing that flavor to my family and those around me, and wherever I work at to have that experience.”

South Texas College is expanding its baking and cooking programs to its Mid Valley Campus. Registration is already underway for the spring semester. For more information about the schools culinary department, send an email to jguerra121@southtexascollege.edu or call (956) 872-2214.