FoodWorks Class 27: Uplifting Local Communities
At the Maryland Food Bank, we have many programs that provide food to those in need, but our FoodWorks culinary training program is the only one that allows us to work one-on-one with individuals, offering them education and employment opportunities to improve their lives and positively impact their communities. On Friday, April 20, we gathered to wish the 27th graduating class of FoodWorks farewell as they enter careers in the culinary world.
The graduates of FoodWorks Class 27 are leaving the doors of the Maryland Food Bank’s Charles T. Bauer Community Kitchen prepared to take on the culinary world, but for many of these students, getting to this point was an uphill battle.
“I got into some trouble as a child. I made some bad decisions hanging with the wrong people. I started selling drugs,” Passion M. said. “That’s what I did for a long time. I just got tired of living like that. That’s not the way I wanted to live my life. I had to do something different.”
Although Passion, 39, suffered hardships, she persevered and cleaned up her life — but it was hard to find a job that stuck.
“I was job hopping. Working with one temp agency to the next temp agency. Anywhere that would hire me, I would do it,” Passion explained.
But Passion always had an affinity for cooking, so when she learned about the FoodWorks culinary training program through family members, she didn’t hesitate to apply.
During the 12-week program, Passion not only learned culinary skills and received her ServSafe® certification, but she also experienced personal growth.
“I’ve learned how to better communicate with people,” Passion said. “I have more self-respect. I’m more structured. I’m doing a lot better overall.”
What’s more, Passion wants to use her skills to help others. “I hope to get a job working in a kitchen with kids or the elderly. I just want to help people,” she said.
Getting Back on Track
Like Passion, Keandre W., 23, went through his own trials and tribulations growing up.
Although Keandre grew up in an underserved community, he set his sights high and worked hard for a brighter future.
“Up until the 10th grade, I was on the honor roll. I loved to learn. But that same year, I lost one of my closest friends,” Keandre said. “He was in the 12th grade, and he had a scholarship to Bowie State University, but then he was killed in the streets. It kind of threw me off.”
When Keandre began to get his life back together and started applying to colleges, his plans were once again derailed due to a tragedy outside of his control: his grandmother committed suicide.
With FoodWorks, Keandre finally had the opportunity to get back on track and pursue his passion.
“I did this program to get where I really wanted to be in life. I’ve dreamt of being in a culinary program since I was a kid,” Keandre said.
Giving Back to the Community
Keandre, along with the rest of FoodWorks Class 27, produced around 23,500 meals for food-insecure families in Maryland during the 12-week program.
“Their hard work and expertise preserved hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of fresh fruits, vegetables, and proteins, which were incorporated into healthy meals and distributed to families across the state,” explained Tim Regan, vice president of programs and network relations at the Maryland Food Bank.
This feat alone has made a tremendous impact on food-insecure communities; however, Keandre hopes to continue giving back to vulnerable populations.
“One of my dreams for the future is to own a restaurant, and one day a month, I want to only serve homeless people,” Keandre said. “I want them to have a fine-dining experience as if they were paying for the meal. I want to wait on them like people, and treat them like people. Because they really don’t get treated like people in society.”
Keandre’s desire to help people was inspired not only by the FoodWorks mission to uplift food-insecure communities, but his own history with hunger.
“I’ve gone nights without eating. I know how it feels. So to know that I’m helping those people who are in that position, it’s amazing.”
Achieving Success in the Face of Adversity
As the graduates looked on during Friday’s graduation ceremony, Rehan Khan, chef and founder of Umami Bistro in Catonsville, took to the podium to describe his own difficult and unlikely journey into the culinary world.
“I was born in Pakistan and came here when I was 16. Both of my parents passed away in car accidents,” said Khan.
Despite the difficulties he faced, Khan managed to attend college and landed a job in pharmaceutical management. But his heart lay in the kitchen. With encouragement from his friends, Khan broke away from the pharmaceutical industry and opened up his restaurant after a culinary internship.
“I believe when we go through a hard time in life, it’s for our own good,” said Khan. “It’s better for us to take one day at a time; one hour at a time.”
After Khan left the podium, Chef Emmanuel “Manny” Robinson, the food bank’s executive chef and director of food service & education, made one last request to FoodWorks Class 27 during the graduation ceremony: “Please take these lessons and the great work that you’ve done for the community and continue to give back. ”
FoodWorks Class 27 graduates are planning on doing exactly that.
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