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New foodWorks program serves unemployed, underemployed

Date: 10/10/2013

By Lori Szepelak

HOLYOKE – For two students this fall, the new foodWorks @ Kate’s Kitchen program will be an opportunity to serve others – and earn a valuable state food service certificate.

“For nearly a year Providence Ministries has been working closely with the Holyoke Food and Fitness Policy Council to create a teaching kitchen that will not only provide food to those in need but also provide job training by way of culinary skills,” Karen Blanchard, executive director, Providence Ministries, said during a lunchtime interview with Reminder Publications.

The foodWorks program, which started Sept. 23, is focusing on serving unemployed and underemployed individuals, specifically veterans, low income, and other underserved populations, according to Blanchard.

Chef Ralph B. Webb Jr., CEC-CCE-AAC, is serving as the program’s project manager and instructor. Webb is a certified executive chef, a culinary educator, and Fellow with the American Academy of Chefs through the American Culinary Federation.

“Our mission is to empower, educate, train, and provide nutritious meals to people in need,” Webb said.

Webb’s curriculum includes basic cooking techniques, proper sanitation and hygiene, culinary math, language arts, customer service, financial planning, entrepreneurship, and the importance of nutrition in menu planning. Weekday classes are conducted from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and a meal must be produced for the community each day.

“Motivation is an important part of the program,” Webb said.

The 14-week course is free to eligible candidates, and includes one week of working at the Log Cabin and Delaney House, both in Holyoke, and one week of learning interview skills as well as the facets of job searches with the assistance from CareerPoint representatives.

“I want to teach the students to think on their feet, that whatever food is donated and comes in the door is what will help determine what you are serving later in the day,” Webb said.

On a recent weekday, Webb noted that Red Fire Farm in Granby donated “beautiful greens, fresh tomatoes, and cucumbers,” and the students learned that morning how to make a garlic vinaigrette which was served with the salad at the lunchtime meal at Kate’s Kitchen.

Webb added that whenever fresh fruit is donated to Kate’s Kitchen, it is washed immediately and cut up for a fruit salad.

“The population served at Kate’s Kitchen doesn’t always have access to fresh produce so it is wonderful when we can prepare menu items like fresh greens and fruit salads,” Webb said.

Charlie Johnson, 57, and Alan Nason, 23, are the first two students of foodWorks. Both men are appreciative of the opportunity to learn under Webb, and earn a state certification after completing the course and passing the state exam.

“I know how to cook and have worked in kitchens for years,” said Johnson, noting his stint with the Army National Guard and at area nursing homes over the years.

Johnson’s hope is that after completing the course and passing the exam, the doors will open for a job in the food service industry because of the certificate he will earn.

Nason, who has volunteered in Kate’s Kitchen for several months, echoed those sentiments.

“I like the program because of where it takes place,” said Nason, noting that for many in the area, the noontime meal at Kate’s Kitchen might be the only meal they have that day.

“The bonus from this experience is learning from chef Webb, receiving a certification, and getting a job,” Nason said.

Community support partners for the foodWorks @ Kate’s Kitchen include the Kellogg Foundation, Sisters of Providence, the Holyoke Food and Fitness Policy Council, Rachel’s Table, The Food Bank of Western Mass., Sisters of St. Joseph, Holyoke’s Mass in Motion, Commonwealth Corp., and the New England Farm Workers Council.

For more information on how to participate in future classes, call Providence Ministries at 536-9109.

Kate’s Kitchen is located at 51 Hamilton St., and serves a daily noontime hot, nutritious meal to anyone in need with a “no questions asked” policy. Since its inception in 1980, Kate’s Kitchen has provided more than 1 million meals.

“This exciting project will help move Kate’s forward to not only an emergency food site but also a job training center that will help people attain much needed jobs,” Blanchard said.