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DSA In the News

Inmates get holiday cookie surprise

Published on 12/21/2010

Forget jokes about files baked into cakes.

This holiday season, county jail inmates will receive freshly baked cookies and, while the treats may not help them leave custody sooner, culinary program officials say they offer a different type of sweet escape.

Roughly 10,000 escapes if one is counting each cookie baked by the JobTrain culinary students and distributed by the Service League of San Mateo County this week.

While the cookies by no means replace a personal visit or gift by a loved one, those behind the idea hope the treats fill any voids for those who don’t receive that sort of holiday attention and add a little frosting on the cake for those who do.

Each inmate will receive 10 cookies.

There are lemon cookies, chocolate chip, snickerdoodles, lemon squares and peanut butter with jelly in the middle.

“We’ve got everything you can personally imagine,” said head chef Adam Weiner.

It got too late to make fudge — maybe next year, Weiner mused.

Because there will be a next year.

“It is absolutely amazing to do this. We teach from day one that food is love and to be able to demonstrate that is wonderful,” he said.

The joy of the project isn’t one-sided, either.

“The beauty of the cooking project is that it is a wonderful win-win situation,” said Weiner, pointing to the skills his students learn while mass producing a wide variety of cookies.

“It is wonderful to be able to help teach my students how to improve their lives and at the same time share a little of the holiday spirit,” he said.

The now-annual baking frenzy began two years ago when the Service League, the nonprofit that coordinates jail services in San Mateo County, approached Weiner Dec. 22 and asked for 1,000 cookies.

The group needed 6,000 and was 3,000 short but only asked for that minimum. But Weiner asked, how many do you need?

The next day had another question: what did his students think of the proposition? Could they churn out 3,000 cookies in two days?

“One student said those cookies were the only gift he got last year,” Weiner said.

Needless to say, the class succeeded and a tradition was born.

Last year, the group started a bit early and baked 5,000 cookies. This year, it began in mid-November, turning out cookies while waiting for other items to bake or dough to rise. The students, Weiner said, learned lessons not only in mass production — a skill you don’t get in most culinary institutes — but also in maximizing their time.

“They’re learning that nobody’s going to pay them to sit around,” Weiner said.

JobTrain already has an established relationship with San Mateo County’s correctional facilities. For instance, in January, Weiner and the Sheriff’s Office created a culinary program that tracks JobTrain’s regular Culinary Arts curriculum and prepares inmates for jobs after incarceration. In August, the partnership was highlighted with a culinary cook-off involving student inmates partnered with county law enforcement and other officials.

The relationship continues with the holiday cookies. The last month or so, Weiner launched a friendly competition between women and men inmates to see how many cookies they could turn out in a half-day. The group is now looking forward to seeing the cookies they made returned in individual bags for themselves and others at each of the county’s adult and juvenile correctional facilities.

Several of those who received cookies previously now participate in JobTrain’s culinary program. Others just recall the treats fondly.

“So many people walk up to me and say ‘hey man you’re responsible for my Christmas present. That was the only indication someone outside there really cared about me,’” Weiner remembered.