An internship program at the Central Park Arena in Collingwood is trying to help young people off the ice too.

The arena canteen provides more than hot dogs and chips through a program that teaches basic cooking and workplace skills to individuals aged 15 to 29.

Homemade meals such as soups, salsa and biscuits can be purchased at the rink thanks to the initiative.

"We start with the fundamentals of culinary, knife skills, sauces, flavour profile, and then we get into actually building recipes," says Chef Skylar Fulmer, who teaches the program.

The interns also learn customer service skills while selling the dishes they cook at the canteen. The program is 30 hours a week, and the interns do get paid for their work.

"We also walk them through online courses like safe food handling, mental health, first aid, with the Red Cross, so that's all paid for," explains Fulmer.

The program is supported by two organizations, Elephant Thoughts and the Environment Network, as well as government grants. The Ontario Trillium Foundation funded the construction of the canteen, which was roughly $300,000 over three years.

"Then we also have rural economic development that helps fund the chefs. And then we have the youth employment strategy program; it's a federal fund that is paying for the interns to go through the program," says Environment Network executive director Kerri MacDonald.

So far, the interns say they love the program.

"Just in general, learning to cook is a good thing, but if I can find a job that involves it that I enjoy, then yeah, I would 100 per cent want to do that," says Austin Saley Crawford, one of the program's interns.

"It's very much better than I thought it was. We are very excited about everything here," says fellow intern Kristin Draper.

The program initially started online during the pandemic. But Fulmer says hands-on learning is more beneficial.

"Not everyone wants to be a chef, but everybody that comes in here wants to learn how to cook and how to be more self-sufficient, so a few of them have gone on to get jobs in the culinary world," says Fulmer.

The internship program will run every six weeks until the end of the year, with the next intake beginning in April.

Then the canteen initiative will look to receive more funding to continue the program for another few years.