COLUMBUS — Vegetables were chopped while hamburger was browning in a pan on the stove.

It was a bit of prep work for an Italian meal young cooks are whipping up for a fundraiser.

They're serving the spaghetti dishes topped with meat or chicken Alfredo sauce to support clubs at Youth for Christ.

The local nonprofit started a Healthy Hearts and Souls program last year to teach youths about exercise and cooking meals from scratch. It's been popular and now the participants are branching out to make food for others.

They already tested their cooking skills by making meatballs to serve 250 people at the Youth for Christ annual banquet. Now they are preparing a meal the public can purchase for $10 by calling the organization at 402-564-3700. The meals, which also include a salad and garlic bread, will be put in to-go containers for takeout or people can eat at the nonprofit at 2809 13th St.

Meals will be served from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 4:30-6:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday. Delivery is also available in Columbus.

Katie Loseke, executive director of Youth for Christ, said the goal is to serve 200 people. Leftovers will be used to teach the youths how to can and preserve food.

Participants say they're learning about more than just cooking through the Healthy Hearts and Souls program.

“It is a great way to get to know people. It’s a really fun thing to do and it’s good bonding time. You learn a lot of skills and new recipes,” said Savanna Denton, a junior at Lakeview High School.

The program is held weekly in the summer and at various times during the school year to accommodate different schedules. In the kitchen, youths work together while cooking.

“Aside from learning how to make new food, it is a good way to make friends,” said Columbus High School freshman Matthew Brandenburg.

The food has been used to feed others at Youth for Christ or is eaten by the cooks themselves.

Loseke said the skills they are developing will remain useful.

“We want them to learn how to cook healthy meals from scratch so they aren’t so dependent on boxed meals or fast food. We want them to have skills later in life,” she said.

Some, like Brandenburg, already had some cooking experience. He said he often helps his parents prepare dinner.

Others, though, are new to the culinary world.

“There are a lot of kids who the most they’ve done is stick a cup of macaroni in the microwave,” Denton said. “It’s fun to help them out.”

Lakeview senior Dominique Parra is using what he’s learned in the program at home to prepare meals for his family of six.

“I cook every day for my family. I did simple stuff, but now I do everything,” he said.

The fundraiser is a way to earn money for materials and games for programs at Youth for Christ. It is also a chance for the young people to show supporters of the nonprofit some of the skills they are gaining.

“Another reason why the kids wanted to do this is they know people provide food for us every night for our programs. There are people on a food list who feed them. They want to be able to show them that they are learning how to do this by themselves,” Loseke said.

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