Ninety thousand. That is the number of people Philabundance served in previous weeks within its nine-county regions in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Eight hundred of those 90,000 meals are prepared by the students of the Philabundance Community Kitchen. The kitchen set up a new approach to helping those in need.
Philadelphia is no stranger to the food insecurity crisis striking struggling communities throughout the nation. Food banks and community gardens are just some steps the city has taken to help neighborhoods gain access to fresh food and consistent meals. Organizations often times fill in gaps local governments can’t.
“Philabundance is the largest hunger relief organization in the Delaware Valley,” said Candace Matthews-Bass, the organization’s director. “We have a mission to relieve hunger today and end hunger forever by driving hunger out of our communities. Hunger is rampant through our area.”
The 16-year-old program is a culinary arts training course that Philabundance added as a way to have a long-term impact on low-income communities.
The program consists of classroom workshops in which adult students review basic academic concepts such as math science and reading. For 14 weeks the students undergo intense culinary training, cooking every day at a women’s shelter in North Philadelphia.
“The goal of the program is to train people to produce meals for individuals who are in need and also give them the long-lasting training they need to enter the food industry,” Matthews-Bass said.
The students are lead by chef Hugo Campos. He starts his class with a review of the material the students are learning, then they head to the practical lab, the kitchen. There the students are divided into groups and evaluated on their culinary skills.
“It’s set up to run like a classroom,” Campos said. “We have tests and midterms. We’re making sure they have those culinary skills once they leave to get a job. Some are already getting opportunities to help themselves and their families while still training.”
Students are required to cook lunch for the staff and those staying in the shelter and to attend catering jobs. In addition, many get the chance to land an internship in the foodservice industry, leading to permanent positions.
Jamie Ramirez, a student currently training, aspires to be a line cook or sous-chef once graduating.
“The program has given me a new love in life, I love to cook now,” Ramirez said. “It gives me a chance to express my creativity like I have a new lease on life.”
-Texts, images and video by Diamond Jones.