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LES Girls Club Damaged by Sandy Gets Kitchen Donation for Annual Bake Drive

By Serena Solomon | November 27, 2012 2:03pm

EAST VILLAGE — The Lower Eastside Girls Club is getting by with a little help from its friends.

Since Hurricane Sandy hit the city last month, the neighborhood nonprofit's Sweet Things bakery and kitchen have been out of commission due to damaged caused by floodwaters from the storm. With the LES Girls Club’s annual holiday bake drive in jeopardy, nearby culinary hub the Astor Center swooped in to donate its industrial kitchen to the cause.

"It is incredible to see the neighborhood support," said Kate Sease, development associate for the LES Girls Club. "With Hurricane Sandy, we have seen a lot of generosity and people stepping up to help out."

"If they hadn't lent us their kitchen, we wouldn't be able to do our cookie bake," added Sease, of the annual program that enlists mothers from the neighborhood to bake and learn business skills, while raising awareness and funds for the Girls Club.

When floodwaters from the East River traveled as far as Avenue C during Hurricane Sandy, the LES Girls Clubs at East Ninth Street along the blocks was one of the many establishments whose basement flooded. 

"That is where the electrical equipment and boiler is," Sease said. "It flooded up to the ceiling."

The water destroyed the wiring needed to operate the kitchen and bakeshop above, she noted.

For the Girls Club, the timing couldn't be worse.

"What we are really worried about is that this is a busy time for us," said Sease, of the 3,000 cookies set to be baked during the holiday season, both for parties and to be sent across the country via online sales. 

The Astor Center, which runs cooking classes out of its location on East Fourth and Lafayette streets, has been supporting the LES Girls Club since 2008 by allowing the nonprofit to hold cooking camps in its industrial kitchen.

"They are really trying to pick up the pieces over in Alphabet City," said Jenn Smith, general manager of Astor Center, which is lending their kitchen for five days at no cost to the LES Girls Club so the cookies can be prepared. 

"The Girls Club's mission and their emphasis on entrepreneurialism for girls and food — they seem a really natural fit," added Smith, of Astor Center's ongoing relationship with the nonprofit.

Now, bakers like 27-year-old Valerie Galindo, who has been involved with the Girls Club since she was 12, can get back to the business of making cookies.

"I never knew I was good at baking," said Galindo, of life before she joined the program at the Sweet Things bakeshop. "It became my passion and something I want to do."

Galindo now works full time for the bakery and has not only learned the art of cooking, but also how to run a business and the intricacies of customer service.

"This is like my second home," said Galindo, of working with the LES Girls Club for so long.

On Monday, Galindo and three other women involved in the program — Alice Ayala, Miladys Ramirez and Amarilis Jimenez — began baking batches of gingerbread cookies in the shape of brownstone houses, as well as brownies and snowflake cookies.

Sease said Sweet Things and the LES Girls Club hopes to have its kitchen running and the storefront open in the coming weeks, after repairs are completed.

"We do it every year," said Sease, of the bake drive that is now in its 13th year.

"It is a good way to keep our bakeshop busy, and it helps sustain our programs that employ local moms and girls."