A former Chicago pastry chef is teaching a sweet lesson cooked up from her own experience: how to turn food from food pantries into a feast.

Stefanie Cirillo knows what it’s like to need a little extra help at the end of the month. Even though she went to culinary school, her career as a pastry chef didn’t always pay the bills. After having a daughter in 2009 and twins five years later, money was tight for her family. She received SNAP and WIC benefits, but often turned to food pantries to fill the gaps.

She recently started receiving food from the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s Healthy Student Market at New Field Elementary School in the Rogers Park neighborhood.

“It’s really helpful,” she said. “With the Market, we have food in our pantry and we know it’s healthy.”

And that’s important to Stefanie, especially because her family only has one income. Her husband has a job, but she stays home to take care of the twins, one of whom has special needs.

But she knew having access to healthy food at the Market was just one piece of the puzzle for those in need in her community – and for her own family.

“You get so much food at the school, but what’s the best way to cook with it?” she wondered. “How can you make that food into a dish people will want to eat?”

Stefanie’s solution is simple: she has taken to Instagram, posting recipe suggestions and pictures that use food she receives at the Market.

“You get a lot of different things at the Market,” she said. “I want to show people creative ways to use them.”

For example, Stefanie recently received oranges, limes and apples from the Market. Instead of eating them individually, she created a homemade fruit punch and shared the recipe with a photo online. She’s also devised recipes for a shawarma spiced chickpea salad, peanut butter banana oatmeal and tuna casserole – all using ingredients from the Healthy Student Market.

“You can eat well even if you’re on a budget. I want to help educate people about that,” she said.

In addition to sharing her recipe ideas, Stefanie has started volunteering at the Market. Between her efforts online and helping distribute food; she’s hoping to make a difference with families just like hers in Rogers Park.

“If I can use my efforts to not only help get people food but also teach them how to use it, that’s even better,” she said.

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