A nonprofit in San Jose may have found a way to reduce food insecurity while increasing its hospitality workforce — and the timing couldn’t be better.
Loaves & Fishes Family Kitchen is building a culinary careers apprenticeship program to help low-income and homeless people develop employable skills to lift them out of poverty. The nonprofit will hire chefs to teach cooking classes and create a curriculum, and also wants to add a mobile kitchen component to provide on-site work experience. This would teach skills to people in the community, including the homeless, said David Hott, director of operations.
“It will give them the skills needed to get a job,” Hott told San Jose Spotlight. “Some people find it difficult to even find a place that trusts them enough to offer them the opportunity to learn. We can do that and give them real life experiences.”
The nonprofit has raised more than 70% of its $4.3 million goal to create a 6,000-square-foot commercial kitchen and cooking program that will go by the name of the Valley Foundation Culinary Institute at Loaves & Fishes. The new kitchen will be an extension of the food operation at 1500 Berger Drive in San Jose. With this in mind, the property was bought.
Robert Lee, a board member of the Valley Foundation, which donated $500,000 to Loaves & Fish’s new kitchen, appreciates their efforts to get people back on their feet.
“I would hope that for someone who has to find themselves in this situation, it gives back hope that life is not over and that they have an opportunity to regain their dignity and self-esteem,” he told the San Jose Spotlight. “When the circle closes and people who have been helped also help, the world turns.”
The nonprofit organization provides food to families, children, seniors, veterans, students and the disabled in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. According to Loaves & Fishes, one in three Silicon Valley residents are food insecure. During the pandemic, the number of meals served by Loaves & Fish tripled. This year, the non-profit organization expects more than 1.8 million meals.
Loaves & Fishes CEO Gisela Bushey said providing this job-training opportunity can be life-changing for those struggling to make ends meet. The nonprofit plans to hire people trained under the program to help prepare meals.
“It gives them the opportunity to change their perspective,” Bushey told San Jose Spotlight, “and gain the skills and training that will help them enter an industry that’s suffering from a shortage of available human resources.”
Before the pandemic, according to Loaves & Fishes, 10,000 to 12,000 people were homeless and another 800,000 people were food insecure. Nonprofit leaders said that as of December 2020, more than 40,000 people were homeless and 1.65 million people were food insecure. Loaves & Fishes offers hot meals at more than 100 locations and is committed to adding more to meet growing demand.
“We know the long-term impact of COVID on the people we serve, who are most at risk in the community, will be with us for many years to come,” Bushey said.
Marco Terron, a volunteer and community engagement manager at Loaves & Fish, said helping children and the homeless keeps him going. He worked to rebuild the nonprofit’s volunteer base to 50% after it was decimated during the pandemic. In his 13 years with the nonprofit, he transitioned from dishwasher and chef to his current position. He hopes to inspire others to improve their situation.
“Anyone who is hungry comes to us and eats, no questions asked,” he told the San Jose Spotlight.
Some come to pick up nutritious meals for others, including Adrian Jaime, co-owner of Dream House, Inc., a convalescent home in East San Jose. In 2019 Jaime was homeless and Loaves & Fishes provided him with lunch, a snack and dinner. Now he comes on Mondays to bring meals to 20 men recently released from prison “so his boys don’t have to go without (food) for the week.”
“You have to give something back,” he said.
Gloria Toledo also helps the needy. She delivers about 125 meals a day to the homeless living in camps.
“(The nonprofit) is feeding a lot of hungry people,” Toledo told the San Jose Spotlight. “It makes me feel good because I always got help when I needed it.”
Bushey said many people are picking up groceries from their locations to help the homeless.
“We work hard to prepare the hot meals so that they meet 100% of the nutritional requirements needed in a day,” she said, “because for the majority of the people we serve, this is the only meal they get.”
Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]