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Cooking Up a Bright Future

Cooking Up a Bright Future

Last week, culinary students in Pine Manor served up a Caesar salad to start, chicken masala with risotto, assorted wild mushrooms and zucchini as an entree, and a four-cheese cannoli with raspberry ice cream for dessert. But for the 10 graduates, this lunch was much more than the three-course meal they served. The lunch meant a new trajectory to a second chance.

The Pine Manor Community Center culminated its inaugural culinary arts class with a community lunch on Friday, July 11, featuring the talents of the student chefs.

“They know just enough to be dangerous,” said Chef James, Pine Manor’s executive chef.

The culinary classes taught students about food safety, sanitation and nutritional wellness. Graduates of the 6-week program were awarded SafeStaff Foodhandler certificates, which certifies them in a Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation approved program.

“Everywhere else in the world, people are connected to food on a different level,” James said.

Pine Manor is in a food desert, according to James, and many of the closest food options are fast and processed foods making nutrition an important part of the education.

“If we’re not breaking the cycle, it’s going to be a continued handout instead of a hand up,” James said. “By implementing the program in this community, we’re reaching the youngest people in the Pine Manor neighborhood.”

Students in the class have different backgrounds, but 45-year-old Danielle may have been the most affected by the program. Her husband and her father passed away three days apart, and she turned to drugs. Danielle was arrested 11 times since 2009 and lost custody of her children. She was homeless for two years and was struggling to find work.

“It’s hard to get a job when you’re a felon,” Danielle said.

After she complete the program, Danielle had an internship at Sweet Melissa’s in Sanibel where she worked in the kitchen. She prepared food and used the fryer to make Sweet Melissa’s famous chips.

“When I was out running the streets, I was considered a junkie and drug addict,” she said. “But now I have a sense of purpose. I can have a career in my life.”

Danielle looks forward to work in catering or in the back of house at a restaurant. Her family has owned restaurants, which is why she has worked in the food industry since she was 16. She is excited to continue her family legacy and use her new skills both professionally and personally.

Danielle is in the process of getting custody for her children again and will use the certificate as proof that she has changed.

A grant from The Southwest Florida Community Foundation helped change Danielle’s life. The funding that was awarded to Pine Manor Community Center last year was made possible by the many donors who have left a legacy fund to support programs to help people in the community.  This one certainly fit the bill and the tip.  The grant helped fund ten students’ tuition, which included books, a chef’s jacket and knife set. It also funded kitchen appliances, like the grill and wood-burning smoker, and the community garden that students will use to grow their own vegetables used in their classes.

If you are looking for ways to get involved in your community, please email me at [email protected]




Carolyn Rogers
Carolyn Rogers