“Shorten the Line” – A Visit to the Houston Food Bank Program

Our consulting team packed their sunglasses and headed South last month to visit the Houston Food Bank in Southeast Texas. We brought our culinary curriculum to their training facility and worked with their program leaders to refine and adapt their program structure to better support and serve students.

Houston Food Bank floor 2 - edited

The Houston Food Bank (HFB) is a massive production: they distribute 83 million meals across Southeast Texas each year to fill the stomachs of 800,000 individuals. Their meals reach 18 counties throughout Southeast Texas and are distributed through 600 hunger relief charities and partner distribution organizations. Their mission is to reduce hunger one step at a time – their passion to provide for others is seen in their daily commitment to serve and reduce food waste to prepare more meals at a lower cost.

The Houston Food Bank is a member of Feeding America, a network of over 200 food banks across the country focused on ending hunger.  Feeding America believes in “shortening the line”, referring to the line of people in need of food, and the network is leading new solutions to combat hunger in many different areas, including farming, health, education, workforce and economic development, and community empowerment. HFB is shortening their line through their job training program in partnership with SER-Jobs for Progress. Program students participate in a two week career readiness course, then are eligible to participate in a five week training program with job placement support from SER.

The Houston Food Bank was ready to take their programming to the next level and aims to serve more students in late 2018 and beyond. A major key to success within culinary job training program is to provide on the diverse, complex, on-the-job experiences in operational business lines with instructional support and guidance. At Houston Food Bank, students can experience firsthand what is like to work in a commercial kitchen, food pantry, catering business, café, and pop-up restaurant before they leave the program. They gain the skills they needed, learn proper sanitation practices, and feel the pressure and urgency of professional kitchens. Students go from cooking the basics to handling their own menus and meal services, all while guided by instructional support and case management.

We believe this training model is impossible to achieve without strong support from community and industry partners. While in Houston, we convened HFB’s fellow social services providers and potential employer partners to learn more about their work in the area and how it affects Houston Food Bank’s training program.  These meetings can inform client decisions about their programs such as what services to provide their students, unique barriers their student populations may face and how to provide resources through their program, what employers require from new hires, etc. The workshops are only the beginning of the conversation and result in long-lasting partnerships that move more students towards employment each year.mural 2_edited

Our proven culinary curriculum model supports this model of training by reinforcing the skills learned in the kitchen through classroom instruction and standards based in our culinary and soft skills core competencies. It creates necessary structure for students to grow in their knowledge and understanding of food and professionalism.

Of course, curriculum is ineffective without strong program structure support. We worked with Houston Food Bank to adjust weekly student schedules, program progression through their café and catering businesses, and define communication between chef trainers and case managers for everyone to stay on the same page during a student’s experience in the program. These student evaluation systems based on our client’s program and business structures allow staff to track student progress throughout their journey and make concrete job placement recommendations. The culmination of these measures will support their goal to double, eventually TRIPLE their graduation rates and ultimately their impact in the community.

We loved our time at Houston Food Bank and are excited to see the program continue to grow. Together we are eliminating hunger and homelessness on a national scale! Learn more about the Houston Food Bank and their impact on their community.

Interested in learning more about our consulting services? Please visit our site, www.catalystkitchens.org to learn more and submit a consulting request. We look forward to hearing from you!

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