One San Jose nonprofit may have discovered a way to lower food insecurity and increase the culinary workforce simultaneously—and the timing couldn’t be better.
Loaves & Fishes Family Kitchen is building a culinary jobs training program to help low-income and homeless people develop employment skills to lift them out of poverty. The nonprofit will hire chefs to teach culinary classes and create a curriculum, and also wants to add a mobile kitchen component to provide in-the-field work experience. This would teach skills to those in the community, including the unhoused, said David Hott, director of operations.
“It will give them the necessary skills to get a job,” Hott told San José Spotlight. “Some individuals have a difficult time even finding a location that will trust them enough to provide an opportunity to learn. We can do that and give them real world experience.”
The nonprofit has raised more than 70% of its $4.3 million goal to create a 6,000-square-foot commercial kitchen and a cooking program to be dubbed the Valley Foundation Culinary Institute at Loaves & Fishes. The new kitchen will be an extension of its food operations at 1500 Berger Drive in San Jose. The property was purchased with this in mind.
Robert Lee, a board member of the Valley Foundation which donated $500,000 toward Loaves & Fishes new kitchen, appreciates its efforts to get people back on their feet.
“I would hope that for somebody that has to be in that situation, it gives them their hope back, that life is not over, and they have the opportunity to gain back their dignity and self-worth,” he told San José Spotlight. “When you get that full circle, and people who have been helped are also out helping, it makes the world go round.”
The nonprofit provides food for families, children, seniors, veterans, students and disabled individuals throughout Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. One in three Silicon Valley residents suffer from food insecurity, according to Loaves & Fishes. During the pandemic, the number of meals Loaves & Fishes served tripled. This year the nonprofit expects to serve 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 get by. The nonprofit plans to hire individuals trained in the program to help with meal preparation.
“It creates an opportunity for them to change their narrative,” Bushey told San José Spotlight, “and get the skills and training that will help them get into an industry suffering from a lack of available staffing.”
Pre-pandemic, according to Loaves & Fishes, 10,000 to 12,000 people were homeless and an additional 800,000 people were food insecure. Nonprofit leaders said by December 2020, more than 40,000 people were homeless and 1.65 million people suffered from food insecurity. Loaves & Fishes provides hot meals to more than 100 locations and is looking to add more to combat the growing need.
“We know the long-term impact of COVID on the folks we serve, who are the most vulnerable in the community, is going to be with us for many years to come,” Bushey said.
Marco Terron, volunteer and community engagement manager for Loaves & Fishes, said helping children and homeless individuals keeps him going. He worked to rebuild the nonprofit’s volunteer base back to 50% after it was decimated during the pandemic. In his 13 years with the nonprofit, he went from being a dishwasher and cook to his current position. He hopes to inspire others to improve their situations.
“Whoever’s hungry comes to see us and has something to eat, no questions asked,” he told San José Spotlight.
Some come to pick up nutritious meals for others, including Adrian Jaime, co-owner of the Dream House, Inc., a recovery home in East San Jose. In 2019, Jaime was homeless and Loaves & Fishes provided him with lunch, a snack and dinner. Now he arrives on Mondays to bring meals to 20 men recently out of jail “so his guys don’t have to go without (food) for the week.”
“You have to give back,” he said.
Gloria Toledo also helps those in need. She delivers about 125 meals daily to homeless people living in encampments.
“(The nonprofit) feeds a lot of hungry people,” Toledo told San José Spotlight. “It makes me feel good because I’ve always gotten help when I needed it.”
Bushey said many people pick up food from their sites to help the homeless.
“We work hard to make the hot meals close to the 100% nutritional requirements needed in a day,” she said, “because for the majority of the folks we serve, it’s the only meal they get.”
Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]