For many people, especially those in the culinary fields, cooking and baking are ways to soothe frayed nerves as well as make a living. There is a Zen that happens in the kitchen whether it is from the repetitive act of chopping onions or the the mind numbing whir of a mixer. It’s calming, centering, and makes the world right again.
This meditative aspect of cooking is being used to help homeless people find hope, meaning, and a chance to re-enter the work force in various cities around the country.
HELP USA New York
HELP USA is a Randall’s Island (New York) shelter that has an eight week culinary arts program that is open to all of the residents of the shelter and even allows non-residents to enroll in the course. They have a farm on site and use the products in the culinary school so, to an extent, it is self sufficient. The students are mentored by head chef, Dan Maguire, a chef that has cooked for three of thee presidents of the United States.
They begin with basic skills and information. Things like good knife skills and sanitation are a priority. From there the students move on to basic cooking techniques, and then cuisines.
The culinary students put in their time in the kitchen, creating and serving meals to the residents of the shelter, and earning themselves a chef’s hat and jacket, a knife set, and a Food Handler’s certification. The organization often employs their graduates in order to help them while they find jobs, which can be difficult even with the training since many of the students are also dealing with mental health and/or addiction. About 30 percent of the graduates end up with solid employment.
Whether or not the students ever become chefs in a five star restaurant really isn’t the point. Shelters like HELP USA do much more than just give the students skills. They give them hope, get their minds off of themselves and onto others, and something to be proud of. Plus, the residents of the shelters are being fed very well for less taxpayer dollars than shelters without a culinary program.
CHEFS Training in San Francisco
Episcopal Community Services in San Francisco is another program that gives homeless people of both sexes training in their Conquering Homelessness through Employment in Food Services (CHEFS ) training. This is a six month program which includes classroom, hands on training in the kitchen, job counseling, and coaching. Volunteers from the culinary world help these people every step of the way and the program has an impressive success rate. 75 percent of their students find jobs, homes, and a richer life because of the program.
To qualify individuals must live in one of the following situations:
- In a shelter or transitional housing
- In a supportive housing program
- In a treatment program
- On the street
- Other related environments
Culinary Arts Program: An Idea that Needs to Grow
Giving a homeless person a skill is imperative to their recovery and return to a “normal” life. Culinary arts programs like these allow students to make a difference, work for something, and gain control over their own lives. Hopefully other shelters, charities, and government programs will see the benefit of programs like this one and create similar programs all over the country. Giving a person who has been a cast off part of society a skill that gives him value is a great way to change the world a little at a time.