The Providence Culinary Training kitchen at the back of Second Harvest Food Bank is busy. Some students are making a large kettle of chicken soup; others are preparing a fresh corn salsa. Deondre Holt, dressed in her kitchen whites, is chopping onions and she blinks as her eyes start to sting.
Deondre seems at ease in the kitchen, probably because she grew up in one. Some of her earliest memories were watching her family cook in her grandmother’s small soul food restaurant on 7th and Trade Street in downtown Winston-Salem. “That’s where I first learned that food meant family, that food meant love,” she says.
It’s also where she learned how to make fluffy, buttery pancakes, creamy, thick grits, and fried chicken. “Just because it floats don’t mean it’s done!” her grandma use to say. Deondre chuckles, remembering the advice.
“Once I was old enough, I would go out and deliver plates from the restaurant all over Winston-Salem with my aunt,” Deondre says. “It was good food, healthy food, and my grandma would just give those plates to the people who couldn’t afford it.”
Food is Love
The importance and deep meaning of food was instilled deeply in Deondre: As sustenance, as nutrition, as culture, as connection, as love, as soul.
Food kept her small family together, even when it was scarce. Her mother, her aunt, and her grandmother all passed away, and Deondre was left to figure out how to be a single mother raising three children alone. She survived a violent relationship and serious back problems. “But I did it by the grace of God. I would find jobs here, find jobs there. I worked as a nursing assistant, I worked hotel jobs, I worked janitorial jobs. Anything I could find.”
“I tried and tried to make ends meet, and when we would get down to the last, I would go to food pantries. I had no one to ask for help, but they—the pantries— were there for me.”
“I learned that tomorrow is not a promise, and we are all going to work hard to make it through.”
No matter how she managed to make it happen, Deondre always made sure there was home cooked food for her family. Even when she worked overnight shifts, she would leave dinner out on the table, covered in foil, for her children. And she would always—always—leave them a note telling them she loved them. Food can hold a family together.
Today, Deondre’s children are grown, but two of them live with her, and now there is a grandbaby, too. She and her children pool together their money to make ends meet, but through Providence, Deondre has returned to her roots and returned to the kitchen.
“Second Harvest and Providence want you to succeed. This is a house of love, not just a school,” she says, gesturing to the large industrial kitchen filled with students.
Right now, the skills Deondre is learning and the opportunities that are opening for her make her feel excited—you can hear it in her voice. She wants to open her own restaurant, be her own boss, just like her grandmother was. She wants to move into work that will help create a solid base for the new generation that has just been born.
“I know I need more than a certificate,” she says. “I know I got to work, pray on it, and get a plan. I am going to claim it!”
Both her grandmother and her mother taught Deondre that she should always help and care for the people around her. “Angels come in disguise,” her mother would say to her. Deondre says she will come back to volunteer at Providence after she has graduated and is impressed and inspired by the many alumni of the program who have done just that while she has been a student.
She also says that when she opens her restaurant, she will be sure to make plates for those who can’t afford it, just like her grandma did.
“I don’t want to miss any of my blessings. I’m going to love and care and help, too.”
Join Deondre in giving love and care and help. Whether they are putting food on the table or seeking new opportunity, your donation to Second Harvest gives to families in their times of need. Make your gift today.