NYC’s free after-school culinary program is serving up more than just a SNACC

SNACC is an after-school cooking program working with mostly Bronx students that provides kitchen tools and food delivery for free. It teaches students how to prepare nutritious meals for themselves and their family.
Photo ET Rodriguez

Imagine receiving a starter kit filled with all the basic kitchen tools, a delivery of fresh groceries every week and working virtually with professional chefs to execute delicious and nutritious meals. No, this isn’t some new meal-kit company, it’s Sustainable Nutrition and Community Connection (SNACC) and it’s absolutely free.

Every Sunday throughout the school year, 36 8th and 9th grade students from across NYC receive a delivery of groceries to their homes enough to feed a family of four through SNACC – an after-school program intended to advance knowledge, improve health outcomes and strengthen communities.

On Tuesday nights, they tune in via Zoom with resident chefs Jorian Blair and Chef Jennifer Scher and prepare dinner together.

“I kept coming back to students about having the food that they need to fuel themselves to succeed during the school day, which then impacted them in other spheres as well,” said Danielle Levin Cohen, founder of SNACC. “With the right food and the right support systems, youth can typically overcome most of the challenges that are thrown their way.”

In 2020, Cohen, a Pennsylvania native, graduated with her master’s from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, received the Gorman Public Health and Humanitarian award and founded the SNACC program. While working towards her degree, Cohen, 29, thought extensively about how to battle poverty and homelessness, especially among adolescents. She began to conduct in-depth research on studies regarding the benefits of after-school programs and how to ensure youth are getting the right support systems they need to thrive in a school environment. Cohen found that the answers consistently pointed to food security.

Currently, SNACC works with mostly Bronx schools — 15 in the borough and five in Manhattan with the Manhattan schools having a significant amount of Bronx-based students.

Why the Bronx? The borough contains the poorest congressional district in the country, is historically underfunded and the South Bronx specifically has long been referred to as a food desert. In 2022, the Mayor’s Office of Food Policy reported the Bronx as suffering from the highest rate of food insecurity (19.2%) of all five boroughs. Further, 1 in 4 Bronx residents faces food insecurity, which is 1.7 times greater than the state average, and children in the Bronx face an even higher rate of food insecurity at 1 in 3, according to a United Hospital Fund and Boston Consulting Group December 2021 report.

Programs like SNACC hope to quell those numbers.

Eighth grader Luis De La Paz of Bronx Writing Academy enjoys homemade tacos he cooked as part of the SNACC program. Photo courtesy SNACC

According to surveys, 80% of SNACC students reported being more motivated to do schoolwork since joining the program and 100% of students felt an increase in self-confidence and better knowledge of nutrition and portion sizes. SNACC also introduces students to new foods and helps make vegetables they didn’t enjoy previously, more palatable.

“Before I was like, ‘Oh, no way, get me away from broccoli,” said Lizmary Rojas, 16, who is currently in her second year with the program. Now, she enjoys her broccoli caramelized with onions and butter. “I’m definitely eating way more vegetables because of SNACC,” she added.

The program has also made Rojas more curious and confident about trying out new foods. One day before her Tuesday SNACC session, she saw a recipe for bread online and thought, “You know what? Let me make bread.”

What resulted were perfectly golden-brown-delicious dinner rolls that paired lovely with the turkey chili and white rice that was on the menu for that week’s dinner. It was a happy coincidence as students are not aware of the week’s recipe until they tune in to their weekly Zoom sessions.

During another recent session the students were introduced to tofu — an item chef Blair’s class had never eaten before. The overall response was mixed and underwhelming, but many students admitted to it tasting better than they thought it would. 

Lizmary Rojas, a student member of the SNACC program, made a turkey chili with rice as part of her regularly scheduled programming. But due to the confidence in cooking imbued in her through SNACC, Rojas, who lives in the University Heights section of the Bronx, attempted a bread recipe and absolutely nailed it. Photo courtesy SNACC

And sometimes they have celebrity chefs, like James Beard Award winner and TV personality, Chef Joseph Johnson, aka Chef JJ.

“It’s important to support the youth in a community that looks like me,” said Chef JJ, a Black chef who grew up in Chicago and lives in Harlem. Chef JJ shot to fame when he was Chef de Cuisine at the now shuttered Cecil in Harlem. The modern eatery was a pioneer in highlighting pan-African cuisine served with modern techniques and service.

“The youth are the future, and it’s essential to show kids the possibilities of taking new career routes,” Chef JJ added.

And Rojas is a prime example.

“I’m very thankful for the program for that,” she said. “I never really would have like fully understood this is something that I’m passionate about.”

One can expect to pay a tuition upwards of $30,000 at the popular Culinary Institute of America in Westchester County and a three-month intensive course at the world-renowned Cordon Bleu in France costs more than 12,800 euros or about $13,700.

Programs like SNACC help teach youth skills and expose them to raw foods. With this program, Cohen is working to prove that by providing students with the tools to literally feed themselves as well as giving them the necessary skills to enter a very accessible work sector, they are more likely to succeed in school, work and life.

“Having the ability to prepare a meal for yourself, to feel proud of yourself, to take care of yourself, are skills that carry through your life with you,” said Cohen.

Reach ET Rodriguez at For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes