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 Janae, ProStart student Neveah Trujillo, Principal AndyThe Golden Eagle Restaurant is flying $5,000 higher, thanks to a grant from the Rachel Ray Foundation.

Located inside East High School and run by Janae Passalaqua’s ProStart students, the Golden Eagle Restaurant is poised for a post-pandemic comeback. When the doors again open to East educators and staff intent on a delicious student-prepared meal, the operation will boast new equipment as well as complete industry uniforms – chef jackets, pants, shoes, aprons and hats – for the student staff.

All courtesy of a Rachael Ray Foundation Grant.

Founded by the award-winning television personality and philanthropist, the Rachael Ray Foundation’s goal is to “help as many two-legged and four-legged family members as possible by working with organizations across the country,” according to the Foundation website.

Through a partnership with ProStart and the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, grants were offered to programs like the one at East, which are designed to prepare students for careers in foodservice and management.

This cycle, East was one of only 27 schools nationwide to receive a Foundation grant.

The application process required Eagle ProStart students, and Ms. Passalaqua, to submit essays testifying to the need for the funds.

“The essays submitted by you and your students truly moved the review committees and we are so excited to see what your school will accomplish in the coming year,” wrote Leon Spinner, coordinator of ProStart Programs for the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation.

“Our mission is to attract, empower and advance the future of the foodservice industry, and we believe programs like yours get us one step closer to doing just that.”

Rachael Ray herself added more praise for ProStart.

“ProStart educators and students have persevered through this difficult year and are continuing to pursue their passions for restaurants and foodservice against all odds,” she wrote in a press release, “The Rachael Ray Foundation is proud to support their dreams to become future chefs and restaurateurs and provide them with the resources they need to be successful in their classrooms. 

“We can’t wait to see what these students will accomplish.”

Here is a sampling of the essays that impressed the judges enough to award East the Grant.

HADLEY PERRY: “Our ProStart program has less than 30 students. We try our best to run our restaurant with a kitchen that is dated. We have turned an old small storage room into a restaurant with only 16 seats. We still have to store items and desks in the restaurant when not in use. 

“We want to do our best for the people that are teaching the next generation of leaders, but we can only do this with better equipment and furnishings. This money will go a long way and help groups of students to find the love of cooking and learn on new equipment and furnishing the student-run restaurant. Who knows: maybe one of the students that was in the ProStart program at East High School will become the next winner of ‘Iron Chef.’ “

NICHOLAS HAYNES: “The Grant will also help us with the recovery and growth for culinary classes from COVID. This will help us in the now with the pandemic and in the future if another crisis is to occur.”

MS. PASSALAQUA: “Two years ago I wanted to give our ProStart students an opportunity for work-based learning. We turned an old storage room into the restaurant and named it ‘The Golden Feather’ to fit with our school’s colors and mascot. We did not have tables or chairs for the restaurant. Rather, we have donated items: a bunch of old, broken, mismatched tables and chairs.  We do not have the proper cups, glasses, silverware, or items needed to run a restaurant.  

“So why our school?  Because many of my students go to work in the food industry. They need this opportunity to become thriving members of our community. They need my ProStart program to build their skills for employment in the food industry.  What can running a restaurant do for the students? It allows us to use profits from the restaurant to purchase shoes, jackets, hats and aprons for the students so they do not have to try to come up with the money.”