"(It) was really shocking and sad because that means that there are so many kids in my community that couldn't get access to food, let alone express themselves through it, the way that I'm fortunate enough to be able to do," she said.
The Gunn High School freshman decided to raise money for the Alameda County Community Food Bank by compiling and selling a cookbook with recipes from Gunn families. Dhir received a $500 grant from the Sodexo Stop Hunger Foundation to fund the creation of the cookbook, which means all the proceeds from its sale can go directly to the food bank. She hopes to raise $5,000.
Dhir is aiming to compile 50 recipes from students in the cookbook, which is titled "Our Family Favorites: Quick & Easy Recipes from Our Families to Yours." Thus far, she estimates she has gotten around 30 submissions, spanning a diverse array of cultures and cuisines. The idea is for the recipes to be relatively easy and accessible, with under an hour of prep time, Dhir said.
Her cooking teacher at Gunn, Cindy Peters, mentored her and helped to organize the project. To help Dhir get submissions for the cookbook, Peters made sending in a recipe an assignment in her culinary arts classes.
"I thought it was a great idea," Peters said. "I was really encouraged to see that a student is doing this."
In deciding where to donate the proceeds of the cookbook, Dhir said she chose the Alameda County Community Food Bank both because of the high need in the area and the group's emphasis on providing healthy food. Roughly one in four residents are experiencing or at-risk of hunger, according to the food bank's website, and fresh produce makes up over half of the food it provides.
"I knew that if I could generate a significant amount of money to donate, that would have a really big impact on people in that community," Dhir said.
Throughout her life, Dhir has always been interested in cooking and food, she said. She remembers as a young child helping her dad make homemade pizza and grabbing the biggest handful of cheese she could because it was one of her favorite ingredients.
Both of Dhir's grandmothers also serve as inspirations for her cooking, and she recalls fond memories of the food they would make when she went to visit, including parathas — a kind of Indian flat bread that is often stuffed with various fillings.
When the pandemic hit, Dhir's interest in cooking deepened, as she passed the time learning how to make new recipes, including homemade pasta and chocolate eclairs. Trying out new dishes became something she looked forward to, and she enjoyed improving her technique over time.
"It's really fun and kind of therapeutic just to sit there and knead the dough," Dhir said of making pasta.
Creating the cookbook isn't the first time Dhir's sought to make an impact through food. She also received a grant through the city of Palo Alto's Think Fund to lead cooking classes at the Mitchell Park Teen Center, which she has been running for the past several months. Cooking is a skill that Dhir feels is starting to become less common. She wants to spread the knowledge to her peers.
"I think it's important to teach this generation how to cook because ultimately it's better for your health (and) it's more cost efficient," Dhir said.
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