Feeding South Florida offering training in culinary and warehouse skills

Feeding South Florida, known for its food bank that helps the region’s food-insecure, has launched two training programs. Both are underway at the organization’s new 5,000-square-foot community kitchen at its Palm Beach County headquarters in Boynton Beach.

The culinary program fits squarely with the organization’s mission of breaking the cycle of hunger and poverty, Feeding South Florida Executive Vice President Sari Vatske said. “We create a hunger-free South Florida by increasing access to food, and we increase access to food either by coming up with innovative ways to give people food, or giving them ways to get the food on their own.”

The 12-week culinary program is designed to teach people 18 and older who want to learn the ins and outs of the food service industry, and there is assistance with job placement upon completion of the program. The program is free and open to all who have a low or no income, the organization says.

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General Manager of Feeding Palm Beach County Chrissy Benoit, 51, center, trains Emilio Rodriguez, 23, left, and Kenny Lawrence, 32, as they participate in Feeding South Florida’s culinary training program in Boynton Beach, Florida on May 5, 2021. MATIAS J. OCNER [email protected]

“The difference between our program and others is that it’s not just back-of-the-house knife skills or making sauces,” Vatske said. “We’re also working with [students] on understanding menu planning, food ordering and cost analysis — things that chefs would see as very valuable in their kitchens.”

The curriculum was created by Chef Lindsay Autry, a James Beard “Best Chef: South” nominee and a finalist on Bravo’s ninth season of “Top Chef.”

Autry said there is a strong need for culinary training programs in South Florida because many have closed during the pandemic. “I think this was an opportunity for me to help our community and help those in need, but also to provide a learning experience in our community and help our hospitality industry grow,” she said.

While the program was originally meant to last 10 weeks, the pandemic prompted Autry to make it a bit longer.

“I did take a step back and included two days just about COVID and health precautions in general,” Autry said. “[There is] a big focus on how to properly and safely prepare food for takeout and curbside because our industry has definitely moved towards that more than dining room dining right now.”

Classes are five days a week from 8:30 am to 3 pm, and every week has a different theme. In the introductory week, the five students learned about food safety and career opportunities in the hospitality industry. In the following weeks, they will gain hands-on experience while learning about meats, poultry, fish, sauces, menu planning, knife skills and more.

Student from Hialeah

Emily Garcia, 21, wakes up at 6 a.m. and drives an hour from Hialeah to attend classes in the culinary program, after which she drives an hour back to start her 5 p.m. work shift.

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Emily Garcia, 21, cuts onions while participating in Feeding South Florida’s culinary training program in Boynton Beach, Florida on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. MATIAS J. OCNER [email protected]

“Ever since I was young, I’ve always been interested. I would always help [my dad] in the kitchen, especially like on the weekends,” she said.

Garcia studied culinary arts at Miami Dade College but was forced to drop out when her financial aid ended. She has been saving up ever since to get back into culinary school and fulfill her dream of becoming a chef.

She said she is happy she found the opportunity from Feeding South Florida.

“It’s just my passion, my passion for cooking, wanting to learn, wanting to be a better chef,” Garcia said.

Warehouse training

Also at its Boynton Beach location, Feeding South Florida is hosting a five-week warehouse training program, in which students learn about food safety, material handling equipment, inventory picking, receiving, shipping and other aspects of the business.

Vatske said the main objective of both programs is to train and place its students into the hospitality industry, including restaurants, hotels and convention centers.

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Delmer Swab, 42, a warehouse associate, moves pallets with produce at Feeding South Florida in Boynton Beach, Florida on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. MATIAS J. OCNER [email protected]

“As we create our meals for our healthcare partners, students in the training program will have the opportunity to do hands-on experience towards the end of the curriculum,” Vatske said. “They’ll be helping make the meals and be involved in the actual production.”

Students will also practice skills like writing a resumé, going through an interview process, and honing professional communication skills.

Feeding South Florida hopes to place those who’ve completed the programs into their warehouse and fleet, as well as in restaurants and big companies with which they have arrangements, including Publix and Ryder. The organization is also in the process of creating a catering service, and hopes to eventually place some of the graduates there as well.

No further details about the catering service are available, although the Feeding South Florida is hoping that someday, profits from that service could be reinvested into the organization’s donation programs, including food distribution, medically tailored meals, school pantry program and weekend backpack program, senior home delivery, and veteran’s meals.

“We rely on a budget of faith,” Vatske said. “But to the extent that we can plan for earned income, that’s a great day. I mean, imagine if nonprofits didn’t have to keep begging for their next dollar and could focus on their mission impact.”

Feeding South Florida’s training program does not have an end date, and it hopes to construct a new location in Miami Dade soon.

“The reason why we say our vision is a hunger-free South Florida is because hunger is a symptom of something larger; it’s not the root cause,” Vatske said. “The root cause of hunger is poverty and systemic breakdowns. So if there’s no hunger, that means we have improved the food system, the economy has improved, people are working, and they’re able to support themselves.”

About Feeding South Florida

The organization, now in its 40th year, serves Miami-Dade, Broward, Monroe and Palm Beach counties. The domestic hunger-relief organization serves 25% of Florida’s food insecure population. Through direct-service programs and a network of nonprofit partner agencies, Feeding South Florida distributed nearly 119 million pounds (99.3 million meals) of food last fiscal year to more than 706,000 individuals — 236,000 of whom are children and 100,000 are older adults.

For more information about Feeding South Florida’s new training programs, including eligibility requirements, or its job openings, visit feedingsouthflorida.org or call 954-518-1818.

To apply to be a participant in the culinary training program, visit form.jotform.com/FeedingSouthFlorida/culinarytraining.

To apply to participate in the warehouse training program, visit form.jotform.com/FeedingSouthFlorida/warehouse-training-program-applicat.

For more information about the organization, visit feedingsouthflorida.org

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