Health Hero Brian Bey Provides Healthy Meals for Kids
The Chicago-cop-turned-chef creates nutritious meals to the East Madison Community Center
Brian Bey with (left to right) Sterlyn Woods, Austin Jackson and Ben Davis at the East Madison Community Center.
PHOTO BY OTEHLIA CASSIDY
Brian Bey stands behind the small prep station in the kitchen of the East Madison Community Center. He is pulling bags of asparagus, green beans and oranges out of boxes that are stacked nearby. Behind him is a small pantry stocked with kitchen basics: canned tomatoes, oil, pasta, canned fruit and bags of rice. “When I first started working here, the kids were just eating hot dogs and pizza. There was no fresh food, no fruits or vegetables. Now they ask for seconds.” As if to prove his point, a young girl bounces in, braids swinging, and asks for an orange.
Bey didn’t see this job coming. At age twenty-three he became a police officer on Chicago’s South Side, where he grew up. But just a few years later, he was injured in the line of duty and found himself without a job. “I didn’t know what to do. So I took culinary classes at Washburne Culinary Institute just to kill time.”
At the same time, he started a family. As his kids grew up, he knew he wanted to leave Chicago, and after hearing that Madison was a great place to raise a family, they headed north. “I found a job working as a program assistant at EMCC. I had no idea I was going to end up cooking,” he says. But one day, in the chef’s absence, Bey prepared the food. “The kids loved it,” he says. “I was offered the program chef position, and I’ve been here ever since.”
In addition to getting the kids to eat their veggies—which, admittedly was a bit of a struggle at first—Bey has witnessed other positive changes in cooking for up to fifty kids five days a week. “They started doing better in school and weren’t as agitated.”
The kids have noticed changes, too. Middle schooler Ben Davis comes to the EMCC daily. “Before I came here, I ate burgers every day. After eating more vegetables here, I feel better. I am more active. I eat healthier at home, too.”
Sterlyn Woods has made similar changes. “I used to drink soda and stuff. I started eating healthier here and at home. Brian is a good chef. And he’s a good man.”
Bey appreciates creating a healthy, enriching community for these kids, many of whom don’t have regular access to fresh food. “I always wanted to help people,” he says. “That’s why I became a police officer. I never thought I’d end up here, but this is my calling. It’s how I give back.”
Check out Otehlia Cassidy's food blog Local Flavor.