Second Harvest Food Bank provides more than food to the community

Culinary program helps to train future chefs

By Carolina Cardona - Reporter

ORLANDO, Fla. - Second Harvest Food Bank not only provides food for people in need, but also offers special programs that are helping the central Florida community get back on track.

Its Culinary Training program is one of those that's impacted the life of Qui Solomon. The 28-year-old was a victim of domestic abuse and then found herself living in her car with her two little boys.

Eventually, she made it to a homeless shelter, where she heard about Second Harvest Food Bank and its different programs. 

The single mother has a love for baking and decided to sign up for the 16-week program. During the course of the program, she also found a support system.

"Even in the program, when I felt like everything was just not turning out how I wanted to go, it all just switched and was like: 'No, we're not gonna let you have that doubt. We are here for you,'" the Fort Lauderdale native said. 

The Culinary Training program is led by chef Israel Santiago, who has been with the program since it launched six years ago.

"There's something that's a twinkle in the eye, there's a body language into it. There's a 'I want to do it' attitude, type of attitude, that you have to have," Santiago said. "Once you set up with those skills within you, it is the chef's job to get the best out of you."

The program is free for students who are economically struggling. They learn about proper sanitation, kitchen utensils,  food preparation, cooking and life skills.

The goal is to get them prepared to work in the restaurant industry, and when they graduate, they're placed into jobs.

"Every time I look into a graduation, every time I look at somebody like Qui that have taken to another level, it surprises me how much intentively involved we are on our goals," Santiago said.

For Solomon, her new outlook on life and perseverance helped her conquer her new achievement -- one that has her shining with pride. 

"Just to hear my son say he's proud of me makes me feel like I'm doing something great. I came out a better woman. Like, I'm more confident in myself. I don't think about giving up no more," she said.

To be eligible, applicants must be 18 years of age, authorized to work in the United States and have experienced financial instability, among other requirements. 

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