“I love that it has to be just so,” Mary Moore says, smiling and running her hands over the tablecloth, smoothing it. “Just perfect.”
Mary is sitting in a beam of sunlight in Second Harvest’s Providence Restaurant in Winston-Salem, taking a short break from her duties back-of-the-house. A graduate of Second Harvest’s Providence Culinary Training, Mary knew she wanted to work at Providence the first time she and her classmates visited. Now she is finishing up the two-year Hospitality Residency Program at the restaurant, and she is learning the ins and outs of the industry. She has a very peaceable demeanor, and her face is rosy and kind.
That is when she learned about Providence Culinary Training, a 13-week culinary skills program located in the food bank.
Mary was no stranger to kitchens. From being a cafe’s “salad girl” through high school to working at a country club during college, she had a strong foundation to work from. But while PCT teaches core culinary skills, it offers something else that was equally important according to Mary: “They listened, they understood where I was, and they helped.”
Back at Second Harvest Food Bank, the Triad Community Kitchen teaching kitchen is bustling with activity. Students are chopping carrots, tending to large vats of soup, rolling dough. It’s much quieter in the classroom, where Client Advocacy Manager Lindsay Bledsoe teaches Life Skills. Lindsay doesn’t skip a beat. “Homelessness. Mental illness. Lack of adequate childcare.”
These are the barriers that Lindsay sees over and over for women coming into the PCT program. “They are put into very hard situations; some are leaving abusive relationships and living ‘couch to couch’ or between shelters; some hold several degrees, but have undiagnosed mental illnesses and no support; most of them are mothers and simply don’t have access to affordable childcare.”
In other words, these women feel stuck, they feel left behind, and they feel judged for where they are.
While women across social classes in the United States face impediments in their careers–from unequal wages to time lost due to parenting duties–for low-income women, the impact of these hurdles is profoundly magnified. Unstable housing situations make showing up to work on time a feat of strength; undiagnosed mental health issues like depression become exacerbated by calls from creditors and cars repeatedly breaking down; childcare falling through at the last minute puts your job in jeopardy.
Lindsay explains that Providence often accepts female students who then must delay their start date at the school because they cannot find adequate child care– Lindsay will help, but waiting lists for assistance can be months long, causing women to have to turn down opportunities. “They are beaten down,” says Lindsay of the women she works with at PCT, “They have decided that it is their time and are looking for that safe place. We want that to be here.”
Back at Providence Restaurant, Mary is preparing to head back into the kitchen as the lunch hour approaches. “I do think women have a hard time,” she says reflectively. Many women she knows are raising children on their own and, as she says, “have to be the mom and the dad.”
But, she points out, these hardships are exactly why women like herself can… and will… succeed. “It clicks when you become a mother,” she says. “It’s not just me–I have two people behind me. But you would be surprised what you can do when you are given nothing to work with.”
It’s this incredible resilience and resourcefulness that Mary and all the Providence alums have brought to the program that has made it so successful.
Support mothers like Mary by dining at Second Harvest's dining-for-a-cause restaurants, Providence Restaurant and Providence Kitchen. Find locations, see the menu, and learn more at providencews.org