Tessa Divergilio set to earn Gold Award for project with Tualatin Food Pantry

Food drives take place every year, and every year people generously donate. But how many people think about what meals can actually be made with the donated items?

Tessa Divergilio — a high schooler who loves to cook and volunteers at Tualatin Food Pantry — thought about just that.

Divergilio, a senior at Lakeridge High School, is set to complete her Gold Award, the highest award in the Girl Scouts. The award is given to a Scout who completes 80 hours of a project geared to helping the community and promoting sustainability of the project.COURTESY PHOTO:  TESSA DIVERGILIO - Tessa Divergilio demos a recipe at Tualatin Food Pantry

Aside from being active in Girl Scouts, Divergilio is also a member of the National Charity League. It was through volunteering with NCL at the Tualatin Food Pantry that Divergilio got the idea for her Gold Award project.

"I really like to cook … I'm also really passionate about healthy eating and I volunteered at the food pantry a lot," she said.

Her project aimed to demonstrate healthy recipes made from food pantry items for food pantry clients. All of her recipes can be made using an electric skillet, which is what she had available at the food pantry demonstrations. So, whether the client has a stovetop, hot plate or an electric skillet, the recipes are accessible to them.

"I ran cooking demos at the Tualatin Food Pantry and the sustainability part of it was that I made a manual," she said. Divergilio said the manual contains instructions, procedures and recipes that are replicable at practically any food pantry. She said it was integrated into the Oregon Food Bank toolkit for running demos so other volunteers who want to do likewise know how.

"I wanted to make sure the clients at the food pantries know what to do with all the ingredients given," she said.

She created the recipes with frequently-donated food items in mind.

"My recipes focused on some healthier ways to use the ingredients," Divergilio said.

She said all her recipes have a decent amount of proteins and tried to incorporate fruits and vegetables.

She also wanted to educate people who donate to food pantries through her project.

She said sometimes the foods donated aren't the healthiest options.

She spoke at a few meetings leading up to an NCL food drive about donating healthier foods and why that's important.

"A lot of canned products have a lot of added salt and so when I was speaking at the NCL meetings I would suggest lower salt options," she said.

The same goes for sugar. She suggested that when buying canned fruit for a food drive people should go with the fruit canned in its own juices as opposed to syrup. Fruit canned in syrup can have about seven more grams of sugar.

"The first demo I did I think it was in the fall because there were a lot of apples at the pantry," she said. So she made a recipe that incorporated apples — a chicken dish with sauteed apples and onions.

"Apples and onions and potatoes — those are some of the main produce they tend to have pretty regularly," she said.

Pandemic shutdowns put a crimp in Divergilio's cooking demonstrations because clients were no longer allowed inside the food pantry. She had to get creative with how to get recipes out to people.

She put all her recipes into a booklet and distributed them in the food boxes the pantry gives out to clients.

"Since I cook so much it makes me sad that people don't have access to a ton of food," Divergilio said.

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