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Rocket Chef proceeds help Food Bank and Merrimack Hall expand community outreach

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - Every year, the Rocket Chef culinary competition combines food with helping others in the community. On August 13th, competition, creativity and charity collide!

In 2014, Rocket Chef started as a dream.

"I was thinking about the first time Deborah Jenkins, our founder, approached me about this," recalls Melissa Reynolds, Merrimack Hall Executive Director.

It led to a transformation.

"They want to do a project with a live cooking show on our stage and I was like, 'What? Ok, cool!'"

It took a team effort to tackle some seriously scary 'what ifs'.

"Pushing those aside, the magic on that stage is just truly unique," says Reynolds.

Rocket Chef has emerged as a one-of-a-kind experience and fundraiser in the Tennessee Valley. Chefs show off their ability to mold mystery ingredients into delicious meals. The culinary competition raises money for the Food Bank of North Alabama and Merrimack Hall's Happy Headquarters. The non-profit organizations split the proceeds equally.

At Merrimack Hall, their mission is to provide visual and performing arts education and cultural activities to children and adults with special needs. It's a place where participants are told 'yes'. The program has experienced rapid growth, thanks to Rocket Chef.

"In 2008, when the program first started, there was one class a week," describes Reynolds. "In 2009, two classes a week. Five years ago, there were only 12 classes a week. With the funds from Rocket Chef, we are now offering 33 classes a week."

The Rocket Chef proceeds, which now exceed $140,000, have also helped the Food Bank of North Alabama expand and implement new programs benefiting two very vulnerable groups - seniors and children.

"We are able to do mobile pantries now," explains Shirley Schofield, Executive Director for the Food Bank of North Alabama. "Not only are we able to provide canned goods and things like that, we are also able to provide fresh produce. That is something that we would not have been able to do for the senior community."

Nearly 1 out of every 4 children in north Alabama live at risk of hunger.

"We've always had some programs targeted for children, but we've been able to add on to that," says Schofield. "Now, we're able to provide fresh produce at some of our summer meal sites. When they get the food to not only take care of them that day, they can then take home fresh produce for the whole family."

Whether we see it or not, hunger is an ongoing issue.

"There are a lot of people in this community that are on the cusp of struggling for hunger and we're able to help them," says Schofield.

The food bank is able to help feed people in need right away and build solutions to overcome challenges related to hunger moving forward.

"We thank everyone for all that they've done to make it a success," shares Schofield.

All because of Rocket Chef, which represents a love of food, passion for our community and a desire to help others.

"It's really cool to be a part of it from day one and really see how far it's grown," says Reynolds.