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Graduate Spotlights

New Career Helps Family Save their Home


After years of low-paying factory work, Julieta Orozco had a simple dream: She wanted a career. Julieta also needed a job that would help her family hold onto their house in North Providence.

Her husband’s warehouse job in Massachusetts provided consistent work, but they needed additional income to feed four children and pay all of the monthly bills that come with home ownership.


Chef Heather (left) of Community Kitchen with graduate Julieta Orozco.


She found what she was looking for at the Food Bank’s Community Kitchen, a 14-week intensive culinary job training program for low-income adults. Julieta is now employed full-time at Rhode Island Hospital in the food service department, earning a wage that has enabled her family to remain in their home.


“God bless this place,” says Julieta, reflecting on the time she spent in the Community Kitchen program. “The Food Bank helps people who need it – hungry people. They taught me life skills that helped me find work. I’m from El Salvador, and I learned how to communicate with American people. The program opened doors for me.”

When times have been especially tough for her family, Julieta has used the services of a local food pantry to keep food on the table for her family. She no longer visits the pantry, now that her income enables her to pay the bills, but she is grateful for the assistance she received.

“Thank God I have good kids,” she says. “When we have food, we eat. When we don’t have enough, they understand. I can’t give them a big TV or games, but at least they have a house and enough food to get by. We’re blessed. Maybe they have just one pair of shoes because we don’t have money to buy more, but they live a happy life. We don’t have money, and they understand. My husband and I, we just love each other. He understood when I had to go to school -- he supported me.”

Even with two incomes, it’s still challenging to keep up with all the bills. Julieta feels proud that she and her husband are now able to manage their family without any social assistance.

“We can save our house,” she says. “We almost lost it, but we got my new income, so we can save it. I feel good if I have a job because I can pay my bills. I don’t know how to say, ‘Thank you, Food Bank!’”

Her advice to those considering the program is simple: “Come to the program. Do your best. You can do it. If you don’t take a risk, you don’t win.”

Climbing the Ladder, One Rung at a Time

Community Kitchen student goes from the streets to the kitchen, learning to help himself and others

Long-term goals aren’t on the top of Thomas Hunold’s priority list. He’s more focused on short-term goals that he knows he can achieve. “I’m going to be stable,” says Thomas. “I’m going to get back on my feet. I’m going to get a job in a great restaurant. I’m going to be the best person I can be, every day, every week. It’s like looking at the top of a ladder. You say, whoa, that’s a long way off. But if you take it one rung at a time, you can do it. I’m almost halfway there. It’s not that much further. I know I can keep going.”

Only a few months ago, these words wouldn’t have come so easily. After serving prison time for drug dealing, he was released into the shelter system. He’d been living in a crowded homeless shelter, unsure of what his next step would be. Thomas’ life took a turn for the better when an outreach worker recommended the Rhode Island Community Food Bank’s Community Kitchen program, a free culinary job-training program that helps people acquire marketable job skills while teaching them important life skills, like conflict resolution and how to make a good first impression.“

Hank, our Life Skills Instructor, taught us about constant improvement,” says Thomas. “If you don’t have that, you’re going to plateau. You’re not going any further. I’m starting to realize that.” Community Kitchen students prepare meals for the Kids Cafe program, which delivers afterschool meals to children in Boys’ and Girls Clubs who might not otherwise have an evening meal. “I’m passionate about cooking now,” says Thomas. “I just love being in the kitchen. It’s a stress reliever, so at the end of the day, I feel great. On top of that, I’m making meals for children.”

Although he’s still living at the homeless shelter, his outreach worker made it possible for him to move to a more private section where he can focus on reading and studying. Thomas now volunteers at the shelter where he lives, preparing meals for fellow residents, cleaning up the grounds, and helping to reorganize the library. On Saturdays, he volunteers at a local pantry, handing out food to other homeless individuals.

“People say to me, you look so different now,” said Thomas. “This smile you see on my face – you wouldn’t have seen it a couple of months ago. There’s a saying: Do you want to make a million dollars, or do you want to be with people who make you feel like a million dollars? I found people who make me feel like a million dollars here at the Community Kitchen. I’m happy. I have a great opportunity here. And I’m taking it. I’m running so hard with it. And I want to come back and help after I graduate.”

 


Steve McDonald: Community Kitchen Changes Lives

When Steve McDonald enrolled in the Food Bank’s Community Kitchen program last August, he immediately knew it was what he needed. “I’ve always loved to cook,” said Steve. “So, getting an opportunity to cook for a living is exactly what I was hoping for.”

Steve spent more than 20 years working as a house painter before the economic downturn forced the company he worked for to downsize. As a result, Steve found himself without a job, but saw this life change as an opportunity to pursue his passion.

Though he considered himself to know his way around a kitchen, Steve was amazed at the level of detail and training that Community Kitchen offered. “The program did an incredible job of introducing me to the language of the kitchen and the techniques needed to prepare large amounts of food. It also helped me become more familiar with the equipment, which has been very helpful for my current job.”

Shortly after graduating from Community Kitchen in December, Steve landed a job with Roger Williams University Dining Services where he works more than 30 hours each week.

Steve credits Community Kitchen for providing him with the tools necessary to build a cooking career. “Knowing that I could be a part of this great program, and learn what I needed to get the job I wanted, was an amazing feeling. I get instant satisfaction when I see students eat the food I prepare, especially when they make it a point to tell me how much they’ve enjoyed something.”

Looking to the future, Steve hopes to expand his cooking repertoire and continue his education. “I see a lot of opportunity for growth with Roger Williams University,” Steve said. “The more I strengthen my skills, the more opportunities I’ll have to cook for other school initiatives and events. And, I owe it all to Community Kitchen.”