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Kitchen Training Program Survives – and Thrives – in COVID Times

Wednesday, October 20, 2021 10:00 am by Larry Montali

For all the disruption it’s caused, the pandemic hasn’t stopped a successful kitchen-cook training program. Initiated less than four years ago, the joint project between Camillus House and Miami-Dade College has already produced good fruit. Many who were once homeless have learned to be indispensable in the kitchen and landed jobs at places including Marlins Stadium, Marriott Biscayne Bay, Levy’s Restaurants, and Fiola in Coral Gables.

So when the pandemic struck, Camillus House CEO Hilda Fernandez was determined to preserve the program. “There's nothing that makes my day more than to see these students walking around the Camillus House campus with a look of pride,” Hilda explained. “Working in a kitchen requires a lot of discipline, which is great for these clients.”

But continuing the program amid the challenges of COVID-19 meant big changes.  Lessons once taught in person now take place virtually, four days a week, with only one day of in-person training at the Miami Culinary Institute at Miami-Dade's Wolfson Campus downtown. But the result is the same: students graduate with key skills to secure jobs and make good things happen in the kitchen. “They learn to debone a chicken, make all the sauces, learn about the different cuts of beef and safe food handling,” Hilda said.

Optimists often say, “if life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Such is the thinking of the leaders and staff behind the culinary training program: The difficulties of COVID-19 may be challenging, but that doesn’t mean we stop pushing to provide our homeless clients with good opportunities to secure a better future.

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