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November 5, 2007   •   VOL. 45, NO. 19   •   Oakland, CA

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articles list
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Cathedral provost talks about dedication plans

Cathedral work progressing

Catholic churches, agencies reach out to wildfire victims

St. Vincent de Paul Kitchen of Champions trains would-be chefs

Laptops transform learning at St. Joachim

MacBooks become part of student life at Moreau Catholic High in Hayward

Cancer survivor advocates for Latino families

Ten East Bay groups receive grants for work to end poverty

Actor reprises one-man performance of ´Damien═

Nicaragua: the continuing struggle to remain hopeful amidst dire poverty

Guatemalan adoption reform may shatter orphan care there

Religion seen as a factor in 2008 presidential race

New LCWR president comments on future of women religious

OBITUARY
Deacon Dennis Rivera

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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St. Vincent de Paul Kitchen of Champions
trains would-be chefs
 


Student Renae Thompson prepares a tray of breakfast foods as part of the culinary training program.

GREG TARCZYNSKI PHOTO

It was nothing less than a breakfast of champions as Saint Vincent de Paul Society of Alameda County showcased its new Kitchen of Champions culinary job-training program at an Oct. 3 fundraiser.

More than 200 supporters packed the SVdP Free Dining Room in Oakland for bread pudding and quiche. SVdP’s new master chef, Michael Stamm, owns bragging rights to the pudding recipe, as well as its special ingredients — the chefs-in-training who helped prepare the meal.

The Kitchen of Champions is a 12-week training course for low-income adults whose first session began Sept. 17.

Earlier, SVdP had provided kitchen space to the Bread Project, a similar program that taught baking and job skills to low-income people.

Now the Kitchen of Champions is SVdP’s own program, which includes hands-on food services, classroom instruction and job placement services, explained SVdP Executive Director Philip Arca.

The program started with five students — three men and two women — who are interns, clients or volunteers at SVdP. Another five trainees have begun the program and an additional five will phase in over the coming weeks.

How you can help
Saint Vincent de Paul Society of Ala-meda County is seeking general donations and student sponsorships to fund its Kitchen of Champions job-training culinary program for low-income adults.

$3,000 will completely fund a student’s 10-12 weeks in the Kitchen of Champions.
$2,000 funds a student’s on-the-job culinary training.
$1,000 pays for classroom life skills and employability training.
$500 funds uniforms, hats, aprons and comfortable shoes for two students.
$100 funds bus transportation for one month for one chef.
$50 funds lunch for one student for one month.

For program, enrollment, donation or sponsorship information, contact:
   Reuben Garza
   Director of Special Services
   2260 San Pablo Avenue
   Oakland, CA 94612
   (510) 877-9238
   (510) 625-7330 (fax)
 
Stamm said students work 20 hours per week during the course, splitting time between the SVdP kitchen and the onsite classroom. They are paid $75 weekly.
SVdP raised $50,000 from the breakfast, which will help fund tuition, uniforms and stipends, according to Colleen Miller, director of development and communications.
Learning basic skills

The student chefs are learning basic skills, like kitchen vocabulary and butchery. But most of their training is in the kitchen, Stamm said, where they are doing “prep work,” such as cutting vegetables and meats, for SVdP’s Free Dining Room.

The students will go on to cook meals for their classmates to eat, Stamm said, and by the end of the course, he wants them trained to fully prepare the free meals for clients.

But the ultimate goal is self-sufficiency.

Arca said the Kitchen of Champions was inspired about two years ago by the adage: “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for the rest of his life.”

A culinary program was the chosen vehicle for that teaching, said Reuben Garza SVdP’s director of special services. “It’s viable, sellable training that lets individuals go out to the food service industry — there is always work available out there,” he said.

Stamm was the man for the job, Garza said. The graduate of the California Culinary Academy and former cooking instructor for troubled youth at Job Corps of Treasure Island came to SVdP in August. He is also a Certified Professional Chef.

In addition to heading up the Kitchen of Champions program, Stamm oversees an assistant chef and two food prep workers in producing meals for the Free Dining Room. The dining room serves approximately 600 free lunches each day at its site at 675 23rd Street and provides an additional 250 meals off-site in SVdP’s other programs.


Chef Michael Stamm watches as student Suzie Jastrumske cuts quiche as part of her job training at the Kitchen of Champions, a program of the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Alameda County.

GREG TARCZYNSKI PHOTO
“Chef Michael,” as he is called, said he wanted to continue mentoring and teaching, but to a different demographic than Job Corps. Kitchen of Champions students “are in a position in their lives where it’s a matter of need and want to step up and be more self-sufficient,” he said. “Where I am in my career — for me — it’s the right fit.”

Stamm said he is working to enlist local guest chefs to help with instruction.

After joining SVdP, Stamm helped select trainees who had both the desire to learn and the stability to complete the program, including a place to live and sobriety.

He is happy so far with his choices, saying the students are “very attentive and very consistent. They all pitch in.”

“Pitching in” is a course requirement, as is a good work ethic, like arriving on time and taking breaks when they are supposed to, Stamm said.

And although he does not volunteer the information, Stamm’s emphasis on teamwork stems in part from his swimming career. He is an Olympic gold and silver medalist from 1972.

Pride of accomplishment
Less than halfway through the session, the instruction already is bearing fruit, according to Arca.

“I think we all know the pride of accomplishment, the joy of using our talents and contributing in some way,” Arca said. “We are seeing that with the people with whom we work — better appearances, a new healthy relationship with a friend, a vision of a hopeful future with real plans and real action taken.”

Student Suzie Jastrumske has made “real plans.” The former SVdP intern and client said, “I’ve been wanting to take cooking classes,” and she saw her chance when the Kitchen of Champions was recruiting students.

Now she has enrolled in baking and entrée courses at Laney College for January 2008, and said she already plans to find a job and attend culinary school in San Francisco after that.

Jastrumske’s classmate, Gary, has found pride of accomplishment. His cooking skills have led to some paid weekend work at the Free Dining Room.

Gary said he once lived on the streets, but found SVdP in 1976. He has been a volunteer or client at various times since then, and is proud to have found a place in the Kitchen of Champions program.

“Saint Vincent de Paul has been a blessing,” he said, and his message “comes straight from the streets to here.”

Employment the goal
Pride and vision are only part of the objective, however; employment is the tangible goal.

“In addition to teaching skills in the kitchen, we will also teach soft skills like resume-building, interviews — things you need regardless of whether you are in the food service industry or any industry,” said Hung Pham, student support services coordinator for Kitchen of Champions and a Jesuit volunteer.

He will help create a list of potential employers and will assist graduates in getting jobs. He also plans to follow up with the graduates to make sure they are succeeding in their positions.

The job prospects look bright. “We do have university and possibly hotel food service employers expressing interest,” Arca said.

The training is geared toward these types of institutional employers, which tend to be more stable and do a lot of hiring, Garza explained. “We may end up hiring them ourselves,” he added.

Regardless of what jobs the students land, the Kitchen of Champions “fishing lessons” have taken hold.

“We see people making changes in their lives,” Arca said. “They might not become a famous chef, but they are becoming healthier and stronger community members.”

The Kitchen of Champions is part of SVdP’s Downtown Oakland Services Center at 2275 San Pablo, which includes the Free Dining Room, Visitation Center for Women and Children and the Champion Guidance Center for Men.

For more information, contact Reuben Garza at (510) 877-9238.


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