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Today Show, Al Roker, Surprises Las Vegas Culinary Academy with $1.5 million
in Gifts as Part of Lend a Hand Program

By J. Patrick Coolican, Las Vegas SunMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

June 14, 2011--Al Roker and the "Today" show made a surprise visit to Las Vegas this morning, bringing about $1.5 million in cash and in-kind donations to the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas, which was selected for the gift as part of the morning show's "Lend a Hand" program.

The Culinary Academy is a nonprofit partnership between Las Vegas Strip casinos and the Culinary Union Local 226, training about 2,500 students per year for work on the Strip as cooks, servers, bartenders, porters and housekeepers.

"We try for something that's integral to a city, and tourism is the key industry here, and this helps the industry get skilled workers, while also giving workers during the recession a second chance," Roker said in an interview.

The event had a uniquely Vegas feel, as Roker was joined on camera by impersonators of Michael Jackson, Elvis, Marilyn Monroe and Tina Turner. The real Penn and Teller were also in the attendance.

At 5:30 a.m. local time, Roker gave the signal. Culinary students and staff and resort employees opened the sliding doors of several trucks to reveal the gifts, which ranged from 30,000 pounds of pork and 30,000 pounds of chicken, to $5,000 worth of Sam Adams beer, cases of booze, computers, kitchen equipment and other items, as well as giant faux checks indicating cash donations, including $100,000 from MGM Resorts International.

Other major donors included Zappos, the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, Tyson Foods and Smithfield, a pork distributor.

The food will be distributed through the Culinary Academy's program for local food banks for the needy. Three Square, the other large Las Vegas food distribution program, also received a donation.

The purpose of "Lend a Hand," which is a decade old, is to "jump-start charitable giving. It doesn't have to be money. They can give of themselves by giving time," Roker said.

Steven Horsford, the CEO of the Culinary Academy and also the state senate majority leader, said students and employees should be proud to be selected, and he said, "We're very appreciative, and all of this will go to an important community purpose."

Other cities with "Lend a Hand" winners include Anchorage; Houston; Birmingham, Ala.; and Charleston, W.Va.


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Copyright (c) 2011, Las Vegas Sun

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