A new seasonal dining event is making its way to State College on Aug. 14. The Community Bite’s Summer Outreach Dinner has an extraordinary cause — not only providing a meal for those in need or on a budget, but also offering an educational experience, teaching diners about healthy cooking at an affordable price.
The dinner series was originally cooked up by Jennifer Swistock, who quickly brought on project partner Rebecca Larson. Both women have extensive backgrounds in nutrition and the restaurant industry.
“I was visiting my parents over the holidays and I read an article in the in-flight magazine profiling two chefs who were opening low-cost restaurants in low-income neighborhoods, and the idea actually sprang from that,” Swistock said. “By the time I landed in Florida and my parents picked me up at the airport, I was texting my partner in this endeavor, Rebecca, asking her if she wanted to make it happen.”
They soon discovered the process would not be a lonely one. Bridge of Hope, a nonprofit organization fighting family homelessness in Centre County, joined them to assist in creating the event; the venue was provided by St. Paul’s United Methodist; Jim and Jeanne Swistock are sponsoring; Rothrock Coffee and PYP are recruiting volunteers; the State College Food Bank, Housing Transitions and St. Andrew’s Episcopal are all helping to spread the word to interested attendees.
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“State College is a great community and it’s made organizing this event and getting it off the ground a lot easier than I thought it would be,” Swistock said.
The event is open to everyone — anyone in need of a meal, those on limited budgets wanting to learn to cook healthier or even folks looking for some company and camaraderie during dinner.
As for the menu, attendees can expect a marinated roasted chicken with chimichurri, hassleback potatoes with a bacon chipotle Greek yogurt dressing, grilled corn with queso fresco, lime, cilantro and paprika, a cucumber onion salad in a tomato vinaigrette, watermelon with a balsamic reduction and homemade fruit ice pops. All of the recipes will be available, alongside other educational materials.
“The focus is inexpensive food with high nutritional content,” Swistock said. “What guests can expect is a great meal and chefs and nutritionists on hand, circulating through the crowd to answer questions, with the aim of helping people establish healthier eating habits and figure out ways to cook healthy, affordable meals for their families.”
One way Swistock is backing up the affordability of her recipes? “I’d gone to the Food Bank and they gave me a tour of their facility, so that I was able to see what they can consistently have in their inventory year-round. There are certain things they always have available. We did keep that in mind when we were creating the menu. We’re also using that knowledge in creating our nutritional educational materials as well,” she said.
There will be two seatings for the dining event — one at noon and one at 6 p.m. — with the full menu offered for both. Those stopping by on their lunch break can even grab a to-go box for healthy eating on the run.
“Anyone who wants to attend can just show up,” Swistock said. “Anyone who wants to volunteer would be greatly appreciated. We need kitchen help, cleanup help, any additional nutritionists and chefs circling the floor to answer questions.”
Future dinners are already in the works, with the aim at hosting four each year, the next planned for November.
The Aug. 14 event has capacity for 350 diners, with no registration or reservations needed. Those interested in volunteering can contact Swistock at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Holly Riddle is a freelance food, travel and lifestyle writer. She can be reached at email@example.com.
IF YOU GO
What: Community Bite
When: noon and 6 p.m. Aug. 14
Where: St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, 250 E. College Ave., State College