BATH, Maine — During the early months of 2011, Bath Regional Career and Technical Center culinary arts students held weekly cafe hours, inviting the public in for themed lunches that allowed students to practice their kitchen and service skills.
The public lunch schedule was supposed to conclude in March so that students could turn their attention to studying for national certifications on topics such as kitchen safety. But after Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day themes came and went, the aspiring chefs and cooks decided there’s a reason to hold one more public lunch: Autism Awareness Month.
The culinary arts cafe will reopen for one last public lunch from noon to 1 p.m. Wednesday, with $3 of every $7 meal fee to be donated to the Autism Society of Maine.
Culinary arts instructor E.B. Baldwin said the class voted to support the cause by adding Wednesday’s meal to the cafe’s luncheon schedule.
“We always have kids in the culinary arts program who have autism, whether it’s mild or more severe,” Baldwin said. “The kids here understand, but they want to bring it to the Greater community that these [autistic kids] should not be shunned.”
Baldwin said that, in fact, autistic students often go on to make strong workers in the restaurant business, because they can remain so focused on repetitive tasks.
According to the Autism Society of Maine, about one in every 100 babies is born with autism. The society said the condition affects a person’s “ability to communicate, to reason and to interact with others.”
“It is conservatively estimated that nearly 1.5 million people in the United States today have some form of autism,” the society’s website reads, in part. “It is the third most common developmental disability — even more common than Down’s syndrome. Yet the majority of the public, including many professionals in the medical, educational and vocational fields, are still unaware of how autism affects people, and how to work effectively with individuals with autism.”
Center director Joel Austin said that, in addition to the autism awareness campaign, the benefit of the extra cafe week will be for the taste buds of Wednesday diners. He said the center’s weekly lunch offerings have become popular in a short period of time.
“It’s been busy,” he said. “It’s been a hit. This is one of our prides.”
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