A remarkable 80% of graduates of the Freestore FoodBank’s “Cincinnati COOKS!” job training program secure jobs within three months. Ninety percent of those are still working one year later.
Cincinnati COOKS! Program Trains Food Bank Clients in Culinary Arts
“What brought you here—and what can we do to help you from needing to come back?” These are the questions staff at the Freestore Foodbank’s centers ask adults when they show up for food assistance. While this nonprofit is the largest provider of direct emergency services to needy families in the Greater Cincinnati area, its mission is to encourage all program participants towards greater self-sufficiency.
The Cincinnati COOKS! program, launched twelve years ago, is one pathway. Up to 12 individuals at a time can enroll in the free 10-week culinary arts training program (which operates on a rotating basis throughout the year) and develop the life and job skills necessary for obtaining employment in the food service industry. Professional chefs oversee the program, which offers plenty of hands-on experience.
Cincinnati COOKS! students prepare 6000 meals each week for the Freestore FoodBank’s “Kid’s Café” programs hosted in 24 sites across Ohio. “One side of our training facility is set-up for line cooking, which teaches the skills short order cooks need. The other side is set up for mass production, where students learn to work in fast teams like those in a restaurant kitchen,” says Executive Director Kurt Reiber. “Our students also gain their “ServSafe®” certification through our program, and that adds to their marketable skills.” (At any Ohio restaurant, at least one employee in the kitchen during any shift must be Safe Serve certified.)
The program boasts about 1,100 graduates and its job placement (80%) and job retention rates (90%) are stellar. And the trainees not only help the nonprofit help hungry youth; they also assist with the FoodBank’s social enterprise, Cincinnati COOKS! Catering. This business, inaugurated in 2008, earns about $100,000 annually in net revenues to support the nonprofit’s bottom line.
Factors contributing the effectiveness of the Cincinnati COOKS! program include:
- Students further along in the program mentor those just entering. This promotes teamwork skills and helps with participant retention.
- Students gain specific, marketable skills and certification.
- Students can see the value of what they are doing right away, since their efforts serve hungry kids.
- The Cincy Cooks Catering program provides employment to some of the graduates (at a living wage).
- Students that are interested in starting their own catering businesses learn that industry experientially, “from the inside out.”