Kitchens For Good was born out of Aviva Paley and Chuck Samuelson’s determination to find a permanent solution for the growing food waste and hunger problem.
by Aisiri Amin
Aviva Paley knew that feeding a starving person for a day is not the solution. The solution had to be permanent. One that could help people rise above their circumstances and make them capable of helping themselves. With that in mind, the young social entrepreneur co-founded Kitchens For Good with chef and restaurateur Chuck Samuelson in 2014.
Kitchens For Good is on a mission to bridge the gap between food waste and hunger relief. They do this by rescuing surplus food from local farmers and wholesalers and turning them into healthy meals for the hungry. Kitchens For Good also runs a culinary job-training program for formerly incarcerated individuals, people fighting addiction, at-risk individuals and homeless people.
We spoke to Aviva Paley about Kitchens For Good, hunger relief, food waste and much more.
INKLINE: What was the driving force behind Kitchens For Good?
Aviva Paley: Kitchens for Good believes that all food has power and that all people have potential. In our kitchens, individuals replace labels of ‘ex-con,’ ‘foster kid,’ and ‘homeless’, with new titles like ‘employed,’ ‘cook,’ and ‘empowered’ while preparing thousands of nutritious meals for hungry San Diegans using unwanted produce.
My motivation to start Kitchens for Good was looking at ways to tackle hunger that focused on empowerment. As the proverb says- teach a man to fish instead of giving him a fish.
I: Kitchens For Good have been offering tuition-free culinary training to youth, many who were formerly incarcerated or who are homeless. Tell us about the kind of training they go through. How does the training empower them?
A: Kitchens for Good (KFG) offers a tuition-free, 20-month certified culinary apprenticeship program that annually prepares 100 individuals with significant barriers to employment with the technical skills, workforce readiness instruction, case management, and industry certification needed to become employed and self-sufficient.
The program is comprised of a 12-week culinary and workforce training (300 hours) and a 17-month paid on-the-job training (2,400 hours). Through a proven apprenticeship model, the program trains students for employment, places them into jobs, and then tracks, mentors, and supports students during employment to ensure that wages and skills continue to grow as students progress along a career pathway.
During the full-time 12-week training, students participate daily in interactive lessons lead by KFG’s Career Coach on topics ranging from conflict resolution, communication skills, and financial literacy. Students then learn from KFG’s Chef Instructor and practice their culinary skills by preparing thousands of nutritious meals for hungry San Diegans.
I: How many youths have you trained since the organisation started and how many of them graduated and got jobs?
A: Till date Kitchens for Good has trained 215 students in its program, with 86% of graduates remaining employed post-graduation, earning an average starting wage of $13 an hour, with 80% of graduates experiencing wage growth during 18 months of employment.
I: You have mentioned before that hunger is an employment and wage problem. Could you elaborate on that?
A: We understand hunger isn’t just about food. Hunger is a symptom of poverty. There is more than enough food in America to feed everyone who needs it, the issue is that people do not have the money to buy that food. To address hunger we believe we need to not only address the immediate symptom by feeding those in need but addressing the root cause by helping lift people out of poverty and into self-sufficiency through good jobs.
Our students learn their culinary skills and become workforce ready by preparing thousands of healthy meals for hungry San Diegans. In doing so our students it gives marginalized individuals that have long been cast as drains on their communities to instead to recognize they play a role as productive and meaningful parts of the solution.
I: You also run a for-profit catering enterprise which covers almost 60 percent of the Kitchens For Good’s operating cost. Do you find it challenging to run a non-profit ad a for-profit simultaneously?
A: Kitchens for Good is all under one non-profit umbrella. The catering is a revenue-generating program that earns income to reinvest in programs while providing on the job training for culinary students. Operating the programs and catering arm does come with its challenges, as does running any business. We are constantly balancing both the financial and social returns of our work.
I: What has been the most difficult part of this journey?
A: Starting a new business or organization comes with a lot of unknowns. Remaining steadfast and confident during those uncertainties has been the greatest challenge.
Especially early on, we were without a kitchen for over a year and a half, looking for the funding and appropriate space in order to turn this dream into a reality. Having the faith and perseverance that this could really happen was challenging and I often doubted if this was all just a pipe dream.
I: And the most uplifting part of the journey?
A: The most uplifting part is always our student stories of transformation and growth. We are very lucky to be witness to incredible changes in their lives as they grow in confidence and as they realize that they are not defined by their past, but rather by their future.
I: What does future look like for Kitchens For Good?
A: For the last two years we have been searching for a second kitchen to expand our programs. Unfortunately, our current kitchen is close to maximum capacity. The limited cooler, storage, classroom, and office space impedes further program growth. In 2019, KFG plans to open a second kitchen and training space to expand its current workforce development, food rescue, and meal programs.
Aisiri Amin is a journalist specialising in social justice, gender issues and culture. She has written for The Hindu and works as a freelance writer. Social wallflower and an idealist at the core, she lives on books, tea and hope (in that particular order).