Chefs’ challenge supports local schools

Live chefs … local celebrities … and a community focused on boosting education.

The nonprofit Garner Educational Foundation will hold its second annual Cooks for Books fundraiser on Tuesday, Jan. 31 at Garner TV & Appliance, offering a star-studded night of fun and fine cuisine.

“Celebrity chef Elise Johnson, the 2011 Cooks for Books champion and star of Cooking With Elise, and other noted chefs will work in Garner TV’s fabulous show kitchens,” said event chair Amy White. “We’ll match the chefs with local media personalities Ken Smith of WRAL-TV, meteorologist Don Swenneker of ABC11 and more.

“Those who attend not only get to enjoy the cooking competition, but also get to engage with — and eat with — the celebrity hosts. And the best part is that the money goes to the Garner Educational Foundation!”

Judges reprising their roles from last year include Jeffrey Bane of the N.C. Chefs Academy, Jeff Hadley of the Wake Tech School of Culinary Arts, and Garner Mayor Ronnie Williams.

A Dessert Contest for local amateur chefs is also part of the fun.

Garner Educational Foundation was begun in 1990 by the Garner Chamber of Commerce, and serves all 11 Garner area public schools.

The volunteer organization is funded by civic, corporate and individual donations, and in 2011 was the recipient of the chamber’s Summit Award for nonprofit community service.

“We serve as an advocate for high quality education in Garner schools, finding ways to promote the tremendous talents of the students and supporting the personnel who make the right things happen for them,” said White, a former teacher who served on the Wake County Board of Education from 2001-05.

Cooks for Books, GEF’s only fundraiser of the year, drew more than 350 people in 2011 and raised $15,000, monies earmarked for literacy enrichment programs.

“Literacy is crucial to success in school and life,” said GEF Executive Director Mary Lib Perry. “We are helping children gain the tools and knowledge that will empower them long after they have graduated from our schools.”

Cooks for Books supports Schools and Community Organized to Read, or SCOR, in which community volunteers partner with at-risk second-graders to improve their reading skills. Begun in 2000, the program has proven effective in improving students’ reading test scores.

The event also supports the Garner Storytelling Festival; the ninth annual event is set for March 10 at North Garner Middle School.

“We hire professional poets and national-level storytellers to work with our schools. The event culminates in students showcasing the skills they’ve learned,” White explained, via performances for family and friends. Educator workshops during the festival offer teacher certification renewal credits.

Other GEF-led projects include STARS on Stage, celebrating performing arts achievements; professional development meetings for media and technology teachers; and funding for school technology purchases including writing and video production mobile units.

Scholarships for graduating seniors, receptions honoring award-winning and retiring educators, and an annual baccalaureate service for Garner Magnet High School graduates are additional objectives.

“I believe all these things make a difference for our students and schools,” Perry said. She hopes to see GEF’s core programs expand even further, with new volunteers stepping up to address students’ ongoing needs.

“I like to think that our students learn by our volunteers’ examples,” she said. “Maybe one of these students will reach out later to help others along the way, through GEF or in some other program. Wouldn’t that be a proud legacy!”

Tickets for Cooks for Books are $25 or two for $40; a VIP pass including exclusive access to the celebrity chefs is $40. Tickets are available at Garner TV & Appliance, the Garner Chamber of Commerce or at the door. For more information, visit

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