Cooking Up Careers
Calvert takes to the kitchen to End Hunger
Van Trammell is about to walk into the best job in his life, the first job in his new career in the food service industry. For 14 years, he served in the Army as a radio technician. Once inactive, he worked dead-end, entry-level food service jobs for near the Maryland minimum wage, $7.25 an hour.
In December, after Van Trammell finishes class, he’ll be working in the kitchens of St. Mary’s College as an international chef, with a chance at career advancement. This step spans the difference between being stuck and moving forward.
“I’ve worked in food service and never understood why I was doing half of what I was doing,” the 40-year-old Calvert countian said. “This class answers the why, which will help me advance in my career.”
The class that’s beginning Van Trammell’s future career is End Hunger in Calvert County’s latest step in its mission: culinary skills training.
“Calvert, the 19th richest county in the United States, still has 10,000 people — almost 10 percent of its population — who need food assistance to keep hunger away,” Jacqueline Miller, End Hunger’s director of awareness, told Bay Weekly. “Most of these families are the working poor — people with minimum wage jobs who find it hard to make ends meet in an expensive region like ours.”
Already, End Hunger is the central supply source for the 11 food pantries that serve the county. Largely staffed by volunteers, the five-year-old grass-roots coalition supplies food and many other services to more than 700 families each week. The food comes from a variety of sources: the Maryland Food Bank, Farming 4 Hunger, Gleaning for the World, private donations and community food drives.
Students Van Trammell and Michael Jackson, top, are the first students in the program to receive job offers.
The new mission is to train people in marketable skills to help them find careers, with living wages, security and advancement.
“Along with our partners in this program, we create permanent solutions to poverty,” said Robin Brungard, End Hunger’s volunteer director of programing and development.
The logical place to start the training was the food service industry. End Hunger had been hearing from industry partners that it was tough to find good employees, and food services employment is projected to grow seven percent per year.
A good idea, but where was the money to come from?
The task of finding resources fell to Brungard. PNC Bank, a partner in other programs, provided a one-year grant of $15,000. The Harry and Jeanette Weinburg Foundation contributed $25,000 for two years. The state of Maryland provided $100,000 to build out and equip the kitchen. Chesapeake Church in Huntingtown, the organizing force behind End Hunger, supplied a classroom and space to build a state-of-the-art kitchen.
The school uses an industry standard curriculum, The Culinary Professional. The class ranges from introducing the industry to safety and sanitation to identifying and to preparing all sorts of food for every course of every meal.
Student Veronica Alston.
Candidates had to live in Calvert County, have a high school diploma or GED certification and want to work in food service There was no shortage of applicants: 50 applied for 20 seats in Chesapeake Church’s classroom. They ranged in age from 18 to 56, and in background from high school graduates to several with four-year college degrees. Because the training program is part of a larger service organization, students can get additional support. For instance, End Hunger found grant money to pay for childcare that one student needed.
Turning curriculum into course is Caroline Allie, who came to the job with a degree in education and with industry experience, including running her own business for 12 years She started teaching on October 7. Classes are now in full swing, with 10 students studying in the morning, and 10 in the afternoon. Graduation is December 2.
In mid-October, students were perfecting their soup skills. When they graduate in December, they will not only have a new set of skills, they will also be foodsafe® certified, a nationally recognized designation, and able to rise to management positions.
“It’s a great opportunity to help people get on their feet,” said 27-year-old Michael Jackson of Calvert, an eight-year Navy veteran unemployed or underemployed since his discharge in 2012. Now he has a job as a cook waiting for him at Outback Steakhouse in Prince Frederick.
Come graduation, “there will be 20 families that will no longer rely on food banks or government assistance to survive,” Brungard told Bay Weekly. “They will be self-sufficient taxpayers; when you lift the current generation of a family above the poverty level, you will be lifting the future generations to come.”
The second session of End Hunger Works Culinary Training Program begins in January: www.endhungercalvert.org.