MANILA, December 26, 2003 (STAR) By Julie Cabatit-Alegre - When the culinary team of the Center for Culinary Arts, Manila (CCA) started last November a Christmas drive for toy donations among CCA students, they were hoping to get at least 200 toys, which was just about the number of public school children they expected to come to their annual CCA gift-giving Christmas party. Instead, they were able to gather from the students themselves more than 500 toys, some store-bought, like jigsaw puzzles and plastic tea sets, others still good as brand-new, like Fisher-Price toys and stuffed teddy bears. Which was just as well, since the children who came to the party, mostly from the Balara Elementary School in Brgy. Pansol, also came with their kid brothers and sisters in tow, not to mention their doting mothers and grandmothers. The early afternoon Christmas party was held two Fridays before Christmas day at the Lingkod Center of the De La Strada Parish Church along Katipunan Ave., not far from the CCA school.

"Our president, Susana P. Guerrero, belongs to this parish, and as the saying goes, charity begins at home," explains CCA curriculum programs coordinator chef Gene L. Cordova.

The annual activity was started three years ago with less than 100 children joining the event. It was then held at the driveway of the CCA school in Katipunan.

"As our school grows, we are also able to give more," chef Gene says with a grin. "We are simply following in our presidentís footsteps. She is a very generous person, and this is the secret of her success. She is not only giving in terms of material things, but she is also very generous with her teachings and the values she imparts."

"Itís very heartwarming," says Allen Eustaquio, this yearís chairman of the annual gift-giving activity.

Only 19 years old, he came to study at the CCA a year ago, straight from high school in Zamboanga City. Now in his second year under the two-year diploma in culinary arts and technology management program, he belongs to the CCA culinary team, which is a mix of students from different levels who have represented the school in various culinary competitions both here in the country and abroad. The CCA culinary teamís latest foray was in September 2003 at the Salon Culinaire competition in Bangkok, where they won their first international victory. The team garnered a gold medal in the seafood category for the entry of Lally Comia, also a student of the CCA two-year diploma program in culinary arts and technology management.

CCA also offers a one-year certificate program in baking and pastry arts, as well as its Venture Into Entrepreneurship in the Food Industry or VIE, a six-month entrepreneurship course in collaboration with the Asian Institute of Management. Through its continuing education program, short courses on weekends are also offered to housewives, working individuals and part-time students.

Reservations are ongoing for the Complete Culinary Course, which runs from January to February 2004, on Saturdays and Sundays, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. For inquiries, contact the CCA marketing department by e-mail at or call 426-4837, 426-4840 and 426-4841.

The CCA culinary team prepared from scratch all the food for the childrenís Christmas party.

"We made our own hamburger buns and patties, as well as our own fresh tomato sauce for the spaghetti," chef Gene says.

So, although everything was packed in Styrofoam packets, with the expert touch of the culinary team, it was actually more than just fast-food treats. There was also fried chicken, as well as fruit juice in foil packs. Cravings Restaurant donated the pastries.

By the time the children got their share of the goodies Ė food, toys and prizes from the parlor games Ė they could hardly balance everything in their arms. They picnicked on the lawn outside the church and started playing with their plastic cars and trucks. They hugged their stuffed toys. And their faces glowed with the joy that only the spirit of Christmas giving can bring.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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