This year marks the second anniversary for the Philabundance Community Kitchen (PCK) program operating from its dedicated, state-of-the-art facility. The 16-week culinary arts and life skills training program provides a path to stability and self-sufficiency by preparing students for work in the food service industry. Students get hands-on experience in a working kitchen while helping fulfill Philabundance’s mission of ending hunger. Last year, PCK students produced 400,000 meals distributed through various partners to Philadelphia’s most vulnerable residents, including newly arriving refugees.
Relocating and adjusting to a new work and learning environment can be difficult at any time. Students and staff alike had the added challenge of doing so during a pandemic. “Not all of our students had access to the internet or video conferencing,” recalled Candace Matthews, Director of Workforce and Community Development. “We conducted classes over the phone,” she said when asked how they were able to keep the program going despite city-wide building closures in the early months. When it came time to test for ServSafe, a safe food handling certification, Candace shared how just two students at a time were scheduled in order to maintain a safe and appropriate distance. It wasn’t easy, but they made it happen. And they continue to make it happen for each new class.
On September 2nd, the program celebrated its 87th graduating class, which included Haleemah, a former math teacher, and Eugene, a single father who relocated to Philadelphia from the Washington, DC area with his children. Haleemah came to PCK with some knowledge of cooking, learned from her grandmother, but seeking personal growth. Culinary instruction from PCK chefs expanded on what she already knew, but the life skills lessons helped her find what she needed. “The classes here tap into your needs and help you self-reflect. We often don’t do that,” she said. “We stay where we are out of habit. If I hadn’t come here, I wouldn’t know where I wanted to go.”
After experiencing difficulty finding and keeping a job to support his family, Eugene found PCK online and thought he would give it a try, despite it sounding too good to be true. After completing the program, he feels differently. Eugene is proud. “I’ve never been wanted my whole life,” he said, “but now folks actually want me. They want me to work for them.” Both Eugene and Haleemah plan to pursue careers in the food service industry. They are well-prepared thanks to PCK.
“The beauty of this class is in how they really became a cohesive, family unit.” Candace said, addressing the family, friends, and Philabundance staff gathered for the graduation ceremony. The way they held each other accountable and came together to support each other through difficulties — in the classroom and outside- was something special to witness. “We’re not just classmates,” Haleemah says. “We are a tight-knit family with mutual respect who pushed each other to graduate and not leave anyone behind. This is a beautiful place. ” We couldn’t agree more.
If you would like to learn more about how you can support the Philabundance Community Kitchen, visit www.philabundance.org/pck