As volunteers at the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida organize food donations that will be distributed to hungry families in the community, others are in the organization’s kitchen nourishing a second chance at life.
Last July, Shaneka Jimerson of Orlando found herself homeless, living in her car with her children. After her car caught on fire, she received help from Red Cross along with an opportunity to join the Second Harvest Culinary Training Program. Designed to assist at-risk and economically disadvantaged adults, all students are able to participate in the 14-week program free of charge so they can gain culinary training and develop life skills that will help them pursue a career in the food industry.
Since opening in 2013, the culinary training program has seen 50 to 55 students graduate each year, and many have been offered jobs within the culinary industry. Jimerson completed the program while dealing with housing and family hardships, and, upon graduation, was hired as a member of Second Harvest’s production team in the Darden Community Kitchen. The life-building skills she acquired revitalized the control she had over her life. “I gained independence. I believe in myself now more than ever,”she says.
For Chef Jill Holland, chef instructor at Second Harvest, that is the purpose of the program. “Ours is more of a reach-out program to people in the community to shorten the line at different food kitchens and food pantries. It’s to give them a set of job skills. We try to mimic the first year of a culinary school,” she says.
The program is organized into three four-week tiers where students transition from learning basic skills to completing a two-week internship. Along with other chef instructors, Chef Holland provides hands-on experience both in the kitchen and in the food industry. Students are often introduced to new cultures while working with ingredients and flavors that are foreign to their palettes. In order to enhance the students’ overall skill sets, life-skill coaching, tips for job interviewing, and resume writing for portfolios are provided as well.
Currently, Second Harvest is revamping the program so the enrollment process will be ongoing throughout the year, meaning more people will be able to have this life-changing opportunity. Greg Higgerson, vice president of development at Second Harvest, predicts that, in the future, people will be able to make a difference for themselves as they gain employment and are promoted in the food industry. It will be a game changer for families like Jimerson’s.
“To me, with the name Second Harvest, it’s kind of like second chances at life, and I’m very grateful for a second chance in life, that way I can get my family back together,” she says.