“Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for the rest of his life.”
This folk wisdom inspired the Kitchen of Champions, a program at Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Alameda County that reaches out to those in desperate need and offers a path to change.
Created in 2007, the Kitchen of Champions is a culinary training program for low-income and disenfranchised individuals, including the homeless and the formerly incarcerated. The Strive for Change Foundation began supporting Kitchen of Champions in 2013, and in the coming year will continue to support it with a $5,000 grant.
Participants engage in nine weeks of free classroom instruction combined with hands-on, real-world training at St. Vincent de Paul’s commercial kitchen in downtown Oakland. In the dining room, trainees work alongside and receive instruction from professional chefs and food-service workers. Kitchen of Champions students serve up to 800 hot lunches per day, five days a week. Working as a team, they learn the discipline that cooking requires, as well as the pride and pleasure of an excellent meal they prepared themselves. They also receive support from staff members and after completing the program they receive ongoing support from their mentors to help them succeed in their new workforce environment.
Graduates go on to entry-level jobs in local restaurants and nearby sports stadiums. Maybe you bought a hotdog from a graduate of the Kitchen of Champions at your last A’s game. That person has met a challenge in their life unlike many of us will ever encounter.
Millie, a recent graduate, found Kitchen of Champions after realizing that without some training, “you can’t do anything.” She entered the cooking program with memories of her grandmother’s kitchen and the holiday meals they made. She left it with a job she calls “fun, exciting and new,” and plans to build a career in the industry she now loves.
Luis describes his past with sincere regret. A rough childhood and other challenges led to criminal activity; incarceration followed. He re-entered society with high hopes, but discovered that his record combined with his lack of skills made him nearly unemployable. He too recalled happy meals in his family’s kitchen, and brought that enthusiasm to his work at Kitchen of Champions, where he was welcomed and taught a trade.
We are especially moved by the depth of challenges many the students at Kitchens of Champions face and applaud the fact that this nonprofit organization takes on people who have been rejected many times before. By caring for this difficult population with generosity and compassion, Kitchen of Champions embodies the values of the Strive for Change Foundation.