Updated: Nov 12, 2018
Ben Barrett unforgettably huge smile is greeting customers at the register of Second Harvest Food Bank’s Providence Kitchen— the organization’s latest dining-for-a-cause social enterprise now open in downtown Winston-Salem.
It wasn’t long ago that Ben was a student at Providence Culinary Training (PCT), a 13-week culinary program located in the food bank and designed to launch local residents from culinary jobs into culinary careers. Ben is among the over 700 graduates of that program who are now working in the local restaurant industry for family-supporting wages. In fact, everyone on the staff of Providence Kitchen is a PCT alumnus.
Located on the first floor of the BB&T Building, Providence Kitchen joins Providence Restaurant and Providence Catering to provide extending training via a paid residency program to PCT graduates. With a full barista service and ready-to-eat counter options in addition to a full breakfast and lunch menu, Providence Kitchen offers hands-on and real-life experience to help graduates build their resumes.
Providence Kitchen opened earlier this fall with the support of BB&T. “Part of our mission is to give back to the communities we serve and make them better places to live and be… and certainly Second Harvest Food Bank is living out that mission,” says Josh Crane, BB&T’s Senior Vice President, Triad Wealth Region Director and member of the Board of Directors of both Second Harvest Food Bank and Providence. “To be able to bring these organizations together in this special way is a true honor.”
“Where else can an organization like Second Harvest Food Bank exist and be allowed and nurtured to thrive and to try innovative new things like Providence?” asked Chef Jeff Bacon, Providence’s Executive Director at the recent grand opening of the restaurant. “Where else could we have a partnership with a major corporation like BB&T where they see the need and innovation in what the food bank is doing and say, ‘Hey that’s something we want to be a part of! How can we combine forces and do something great for downtown Winston-Salem?’ The answer to that is Providence Kitchen.”
The need is clear in Winston-Salem, with 18% of Forsyth County residents living in poverty and 40% living in low-income households. “Thirty-six years ago the food bank was born, and we have been dedicated to addressing hunger and food insecurity in the region across Northwest North Carolina throughout that time. The fact is, as we look at addressing that issue, we knew that to really get to the heart of the matter of why people are food insecure we needed to go deeper and look at the issue of poverty,” explains Eric Aft, CEO of Second Harvest.
“So we asked those questions. The first foray into that was the mission of Providence. At Providence, we are saying to those who go through the program it’s not just about getting a job; it’s about finding a career path. Since its beginnings, it is what Providence has been all about.”
Years later, Providence has grown well beyond a culinary school and into physical places like Providence Kitchen and Providence Restaurant where the community can gather around the mission of the food bank. “As we approach the holiday season,” said John Larson, the City Councilman for Winston-Salem’s South Ward at the opening of the restaurant, “I think of that Normal Rockwell view where people are gathered around a table, this bountiful table of food, and their heads are bowed and they are so thankful to have this fellowship over a meal; to enjoy each other in the comfort of a home. We think about food in a happy way, don’t we? We think about what food provides—this opportunity to gather together and enjoy each other’s company and, basically, for a while to leave other fears aside.
“But there is another part for people who don’t have food,” he continued. “Food represents an anxiety: A fear of day-to-day as to whether or not they will have the basic sustenance they will need to survive. What is so exciting about Providence Kitchen is that it pulls together all these institutions and begins to address some basic needs that we have in this city. And it does this in a way that you can come and have that fellowship and enjoyment of each other with a good meal but also use the opportunity to know there is an echo effect that goes beyond your meal.”
Learn more about Providence Kitchen and our Providence programs at www.providencews.org