Montgomery County Darden restaurants support Philabundance Community Kitchen

News Source: The Times Herald

Gary Puleo, The Times Herald

WEST NORRITON — Whether it’s the Renegade Sirloin at LongHorn, the Salmon New Orleans at Red Lobster or the Calypso Shrimp Linguine at Bahama Breeze, the Darden restaurant folks sure know how to cook up and serve some tantalizing dishes.

They also know how to embrace a worthy cause.

Through the Darden Foundation’s Restaurant Community Grants program, the staffs of 21 area Red Lobster, LongHorn Steakhouse, Capital Grille, Olive Garden and Bahama Breeze restaurants recently awarded $21,000 to Philabundance, the Philadelphia area’s largest hunger-relief organization.

“Our employees are incredibly passionate about the communities where they live and our restaurant teams are in a position to understand and help address the needs of their communities,” said Drew Madsen, chief operating officer and president of Darden Restaurants, Inc.

“We’re all proud to build on that passion through the grants program and bring real, local citizenship to life by enabling each restaurant to make a difference in their backyard.”

The grants effort is designed to intensify connections in those communities surrounding the more than 2,000 Darden restaurants in North America.

Philabundance is one of 850 nonprofit groups in the U.S. that received a portion of $1.9 million in grants in the second year of the DFRCG program.

Every restaurant team had a hand in identifying a local organization to receive a grant, and is encouraged to stay engaged with their chosen nonprofit throughout the year, noted Jared Schenkel, general manager of Red Lobster in Pottstown, who organized the local drive.

“Each restaurant chose an organization to receive $1,000 from the corporation, and each general manager works with their team to decide where they want the money to go,” he said. “Each restaurant within the Darden family has charities that they donate to, which range from fighting hunger to preserving natural resources.”

The Philabundance funds will support the organization’s Community Kitchen Program, a 14-week culinary arts program that trains low-income individuals in the skills needed for sustainable employment in the food service industry.

It seemed only natural that the majority of the local Darden employees would choose to funnel the company’s money into such a worthwhile effort, Schenkel allowed.

“Philabundance is such a large organization, so I think that certainly helped,” he said.

“We are so thankful to the local Delaware Valley Darden restaurants who make fighting hunger in their communities a priority,” said Bill Clark, president and executive director of Philabundance. “We could not provide programs like the Philabundance Community Kitchen without this type of support.”

The Philabundance Community Kitchen Program is a hands-on culinary arts training program for adults that encompasses all facets of food service, from basic chopping skills and food preparation to job placement assistance.

The career-oriented training provides nearly 500 hours of culinary arts education, while offering students exposure to guest chefs, catering opportunities and off-site internships, resulting in an 85 percent job placement in the food service industry, according to the Philabundance website.

Beyond the career advantages, PCK has prepared about 400,000 meals for area emergency kitchens and other locations in a single year.

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