Eva’s Village to Feature its Culinary School at Annual Benefit Gala

By Erin Pedrini
Web Production Assistant

One of the graduating classes of the Culinary School. Photo courtesy of Donna Fico.

“We are helping people at the point where they come in to us and we are giving them services that put them on a path to a better quality of life,” said Eva’s Village Director of Marketing and Education Donna Fico. Eva’s Village is a non-profit in Paterson and is hosting its Annual Benefit Gala on Nov. 6, featuring its Culinary School, to raise money to continue to support its programs.

Eva’s Village was founded 32 years ago in the 1980s in Paterson in response to people who were knocking on the doors of various churches asking for food, said Fico.

“Our founder got together with some other concerned citizens and decided to start a soup kitchen in the basement of St. John’s Cathedral in Paterson. We served 30 people hot dogs and beans on the first day and we have grown tremendously since then,” said Fico. “One of the reasons why we grew is because we didn’t want to just give food out and then find a person sleeping in a park at night and that was what we were seeing. Shelters then became part of the next mission and then we started to look at why people were finding themselves in these positions as homeless and in need of help. Addiction services became the third mission because that was and remains to be one of the primary reasons why people are homeless. We started addiction treatment programs and a small clinic which was mobile in the early years and had a big response to the TB epidemic in Paterson in the 1990s. People from the clinic would test them for TB and that effort grew into a free standing primary care clinic which we have here in Paterson today, which also has a dental component.”

The mission of Eva’s Village is to, “Feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, treat the addicted and provide medical care to the poor with respect to the human dignity of each individual,” said Fico. She said to help with the sheltering aspect of the mission, the non-profit looked at what could be done for housing because it can be difficult for people who rehabilitate themselves to find affordable housing. The non-profit now has transitional housing for those people who are working, which allows them to pay an affordable rent while trying to save money, said Fico. Eva’s Village opened the Eva’s Village Apartments in 2010 which includes 50 units of affordable housing.

Eva’s Village also provides a Hope Residence — a shelter for moms with children. It provides housing to people who find themselves in situations where they have to flee their current homes, as well as those suffering with addiction who are afraid they are going to lose their kids. Thirty-one moms and their children are living there currently, said Fico. She said that way, the moms don’t have to worry about losing their children because the children come with them and Eva’s provides the moms with childcare programs, after-school programs, enrichment programs and group services to get them on their feet so that they are able to support themselves and move forward.

Fico said that Eva’s Village serves 350 people who live there residentially in the various programs and 400 people come every day to the soup kitchen for one hot meal a day, 365 days a year. The residents of Eva’s Village receive three meals a day, so Fico said that a lot of meals come out of the kitchen every day and the new Culinary School helps with the meals.

Chef Darryl Dela Cruz. Photo courtesy of Donna Fico.

The Culinary School started in March 2014 and so far has had two classes, equaling about 18 students since the school opened, said Eva’s Village Culinary School Executive Chef Director Darryl Dela Cruz. He said that the school was started in order to provide an opportunity for those in need because Eva’s Village originally started as a soup kitchen. “We decide that because it started as a soup kitchen, it was appropriate that we kind of use it as a start-up for a culinary school. The reason is not only to provide the schooling but to be able to train residents of Eva’s and the community, who are interested, to have jobs in the culinary field,” said Dela Cruz.

Dela Cruz said that preparing and serving food in the soup kitchen is part of the curriculum. He said one style of cooking the students learn is serving and cooking in large quantity and that coincides with the dinners and lunches that the soup kitchen provides.

“If someone is interested in the school they will contact the coordinator and they will go through an interview process and see if they meet the requirements of the school. We basically go through the basics of culinary arts in five months,” said Dela Cruz.

He said that the students are taught an introduction to the business and the field and learn about equipment, ingredients, how to use the knife, sanitation and safety, a managers course, culinary organizations, what to expect in the business and how to cook breakfast in the first month. In the second month, they learn specific cooking techniques, how to cook vegetables, starches, pasta, meats and how to butcher those items. In the third month, students learn about the cold kitchen, including salads and dressings, soups and sandwiches. The fourth month, students learn the basics of baking, including the ingredients, equipment and baking math, and produce cakes, pies, breads, cookies, pie dough and tarts. The last month, students complete 128 hours at an internship putting what they learned into action in a real kitchen.

Dela Cruz said the vocational coordinator assists the students in finding an internship that they will fit in and matching them with what they want to do. He said sometimes their internships will offer them a job. If they do not, Eva’s will help them find a job and assist them after graduation to make sure they find a job in the market.

“The students are all wide eyed and excited. The passion is there for the students and the desire. It is easier for them to go through the program when the students do have the passion and the desire to make themselves more confident and build themselves up in doing what they want to, which they probably never had the opportunity to do before but now they have it and they are taking advantage of it, so that is great,” said Dela Cruz. “The school has been successful and we have placed people in jobs and they are excited about what they are doing, and overall it is great and they are happy.”

Fico said working for Eva’s Village is very rewarding. “When you come to work, you don’t doubt what you do here. When you come in, you see automatically what you are doing. The people are here, they are waiting for the meal, people are coming out of our shelters, people are coming into our shelters, you can actually see what you are doing and then the cherry on the sundae is the help that what you are providing makes a difference and you can see that too,” she said. “For every person who gets a job after the Culinary School, it is like a Harvard graduation because you have taken them from eating in a soup kitchen and living in a shelter to now getting a job or giving them the keys to their apartment when they have never owned anything or were never self sufficient. Those are rewards that are incredible. When clients succeed, it is really a thank you to all of the people who donated the money. We wouldn’t be able to do it without the funds that we receive.”

The new training kitchen for the Eva’s Village Culinary School. Photo courtesy of Donna Fico.

In order to support its programs, Eva’s has just a little under a $10 million budget, said Fico. She about 60 percent is funded through state and federal grants, which are mostly for addiction treatment. She said the other 40 to 50 percent comes through its fundraising department which has four events a year, with the Gala being the largest. Eva’s also does mailings, tours to show the facility and other activities non-profits do for annual fundraising.

This year, the Annual Eva’s Village Gala will be held on Thursday, Nov. 6 at The Grove in Cedar Grove. The Culinary School will be featured at the Gala and the school’s new training kitchen is being unveiled at the event, said Fico. For more information about the Gala, call 973-523-6220, ext. 235. Donations to Eva’s Village can be made here.