Head Start Students Get Surprise Visit from World-Renowned Chef

Our Head Start students are no strangers to exciting visitors. Last year, the world-famous red monster Elmo dropped by. And in 2015, our Head Start students in Corona began the holiday season with a visit from then-New York Secretary of State Cesar Perales, Assembly Member Jeffrion Aubry, and U.S. Congressman Joe Crowley.

But yesterday marked the first time our preschoolers were able to spend time with an internationally renowned chef. Lidia Bastianich— the Emmy Award-winning television host of Lidia’s Kitchen and, lucky for us, a proud Queens resident and children’s book author — dropped by our Ficalora Family Foundation Head Start Center in Woodside and generously shared some of her writings with our young students.

Bastianich read from her children’s book series, “Nonna, Tell Me a Story,” which depicts Nonna Lidia and her five grandchildren in various gardening and cooking adventures. As the center’s Head Start students have begun to learn about gardening, Bastianich’s expert storytelling and effusive love of children were quite a treat. The children were enthralled as they listened to an author read her own stories, and they were fascinated by her demonstrations using fresh herbs. She taught everyone the words for all the herbs, taught them what “chef” means, and even gave the Center’s cook a suggestion of what to do with the leftover herbs (make pesto!) and gave her a recipe.

Although one child heard “pesto” and shouted, “Oreo,” they all were happy to actually get their hands on the herbs they’d been learning about, smelling (and in some cases tasting) basil, rosemary, and parsley.

Mahmud stops to smell the basil.

When Bastianich read about how the eggs with which we cook and bake come from a chicken, several children volunteered whether or not they had been to a farm or have ever made something to eat with eggs. “I made a cake with eggs. I mixed them!” said 3-year-old Valentina, demonstrating the mixing motion.

After the visit, Bastianich made it clear that the experience was just as much a treat for her as it was for the children. “As a grandmother and children’s book author, as well as a promoter of gardening and healthy eating, I loved seeing firsthand what The Child Center of NY has been doing for 65 years. If I can contribute to that work in any positive way, it is a good day!”

Marie Mason, Director of the Ficalora Family Foundation Head Start Center emphasized the importance of visits from the larger community. “Our Head Start students benefit from visitors like Lidia who can enrich their learning experience with life’s lessons and expertise. The children were ecstatic to meet ‘Nonna Lidia’ and hear her stories.”

Child Center CEO Traci Donnelly echoed the sentiment. “We were thrilled to have Lidia visit us and read to some of our kids; we’ve been fans for a long time, and we know that she is truly ‘on the same page’ with our mission to provide new opportunities and learning experiences to children and families in underserved neighborhoods in the city.”

We encourage others who feel the same way to share their expertise and experiences with the children at our Head Start programs, read to them, or donate new or gently used books and educational toys, such as puzzles and memory games. Books written in Spanish, Nepali, or Bengali are especially needed, since they make it possible for parents literate only in those languages to read to their children.

Anyone interested in arranging volunteer visits or donations of books or toys can contact Marie Mason at 718-943-2800.

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