By Lauren Wanko
The sweet aroma of fruit tarts and cheesecake fills the air in the Community FoodBank of New Jersey’s kitchen. These irresistible desserts are made by chefs-in-training, students of the Food Service Training Academy.
“People who come from our program come from all walks of life. What they find here is hopefully a purpose,” said Community FoodBank of New Jersey Director and Executive Chef Paul Kapner.
These nearly 30 students are part of a rigorous 16 week, tuition-free training course, which is covered by private donations. The program’s trainees includes everyone from those looking for a career change to former inmates, like Hussen Moore who struggled to find work after he was released from prison.
“I’m 37 years old, I’ve been in and out of prison for my whole 20s and I’m getting too old and my kids are getting older and I want them to be proud of me,” said Hussen.
Students learn everything from knife skills to life skills and ultimately graduate with a food safety certificate.
“I think everyone deserves to have dreams and pursue them and here we’re gonna equip them on goal setting and how to pursue those dreams,” said graduate Jessica Martinez.
The Food Service Training Academy has been operating for nearly 15 years and so far more than 700 students have graduated. Those graduates say this program is life changing.
Darell Barber spent 4 years in prison. Now he’s looking forward to a career as a sous chef.
“Where I’m at now and what I have learned, it’s just tremendous and I never thought I’d attain this much wealth in the cooking industry in just 16 weeks,” said graduate Darell Brown.
About 90 percent of the students are employed in the food industry within three to five months and Kapner says the career path keeps former inmates out of prison.
“I really can’t think of any that have gone back into correctional facilities. They actually gotten jobs and they don’t want to go back into that life,” said Kapner.
Veteran graphic artist Maribel Caraballo struggled to find work in her industry, that lead her to the Academy just in time too. Her son recently bought a food truck.
“I can’t explain to you how ecstatic and happy I am. It’s gonna be like a family thing that’s gonna help us achieve our goal and we’re together has a family,” said graduate Maribel Caraballo.
Throughout the training course the students eagerly waited for this moment, graduation night. It was a moment of celebration and one that brought some to tears. 10 graduates are already working in the food industry and although this ceremony marks the end of their training it marks the beginning of a brand new chapter.