Careful chopping and cheerful chatter fill the classroom kitchen at Second Harvest Food Bank as participants in GRACE learn knife safety while preparing fresh veggies for a colorful salad.
“I enjoy it,” said Logan Gammons, one of six participants in the July GRACE cooking class at Providence Culinary Training. “Everything—salad and everything. It makes me hungry.”
GRACE began six years ago thanks to father-son duo Steve and Steven Jones. Steven Jones, who is on the autism spectrum, completed Providence’s culinary training program learning top-flight kitchen skills, and his father shadowed him in the program. Seeing his son’s success inspired Steve.
“It’s just a passion I have because my son came through the regular program,” Steve said. “If my son can do this, so many other people can do it.”
Steve and Steven began sharing cooking skills with other individuals with differing abilities. They started classes at Goler Memorial AME Zion Church and named the program GRACE: Growth, Respect, Acceptance Community, and Enrichment, all values that GRACE embodies. They made cookies and hot pockets, packed them up, and the cooks in the classes delivered the food to people experiencing homelessness.
“That’s what grace is all about,” Steve said. “They were going out helping people. They were making a difference.”
Chef Jeff Bacon, VP & Executive Director of Providence, the culinary training program of Second Harvest Food Bank, invited GRACE to use the kitchen at the Food Bank’s former Reed Street location for its classes. Since the Food Bank moved to its new location on Shorefair Drive, GRACE has expanded, offering classes each Wednesday for six-week sessions.
“We’ve got the passion, the expertise and everything we need right here to help participating individuals be the best that they can be, which is what grace is all about,” Steve said. “This is like a ministry here. The people here (with the Providence program) are just awesome. The best thing Second Harvest ever did, in addition to feeding people, is teaching people how to feed themselves. The extension of Second Harvest's Providence program to including GRACE just keeps it going.”
He credits Director of Culinary Education Chef Daryl Pobanz with creating the curriculum. The class builds camaraderie and community as it teaches a variety of skills, such as using a blender to make smoothies, how to safely use a knife to cut vegetables, and preparing grilled cheese sandwiches and soups. Participants, age 16 and older, have differing abilities, such as autism, Down’s Syndrome, or physical challenges.
“The main objective is to create independence in the kitchen at home and also to create some confidence and comfortableness with their parents,” Pobanz said. “Because they can do it—independence means a lot to participating individuals.”
Matthew Clark said his mother taught him to make hamburgers at home, and learning how to chop vegetables is not hard. His mother, Donna, said Matthew enjoys participating in GRACE with several fellow Special Olympic athletes.
“He loves to cook,” she said. “It makes him feel good—it’s self-esteem.”
Each week, participants learn something new, Pobanz said.
“We’ve got big hopes and dreams for this program,” he said. “My goal would be to turn this into something that’s an advanced level for people who really enjoy it and turn it into job placement training, like our other classes -- catering to the needs of employers who are welcoming. It’s just the right thing to do. If you have a passion for food and cooking, there shouldn’t be anything that holds you back.”
Steven bakes treats, such as scones and lemon crumb muffins, for Moji Coffee & More, a job training and employment advocacy program for people with diverse abilities. Jones and Pobanz hope to teach baking skills to other individuals in GRACE to boost baked goods production.
GRACE benefits from volunteers who are Second Harvest chefs and former program participants, such as Community Meals Chef Shakessia Robinson, who has always had a passion for feeding people.
“I’ve absolutely loved it,” Robinson said. “I love working with people that have challenges. I feel like if we teach people how to do things and take the time to work with them, anyone can do anything they want, if we just give a little bit of time. This is full circle.”
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