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Maryland Food Bank, Wor-Wic Community College train future chefs – Delmarva Now

Simply cutting a carrot properly may seem like a minuscule task, unless it is part of the Wor-Wic Community College FoodWorks culinary training program — as that skill could feed potentially thousands.
The free culinary arts training sets a high bar for meticulous attention to detail in food preparation. The array of cooking skills includes knife cuts, recipe conversions, food safety standards and commercial kitchen equipment use and sanitation.
The emphasis is far from just finding a job after graduation, it is about laying the groundwork for a career.
This training partnership with the Maryland Food Bank is important as as they work to feed an increasing number of people. The Food Bank noted that this year, one-third of Maryland residents said they have been affected by hunger or food insecurity.
“I’ve had friends in previous classes, and they would post about their lessons on (social media) and I thought it was a great idea,” said Lawanda Brooks of Dover, who will be graduating Dec. 9 with the ServSafe certification. “I think it’s better than getting financial aid to pay for formal culinary arts school. We learned everything they do in our program.
The program is a held over compressed, but intense, 12-week span during which students are expected to attend all day on weekdays.
“I’ve learned a great deal about teamwork and time usage. It’s hard to get past the time commitment if you have a family, but if you do, you learn a great deal,” Brooks said.
It is that sentiment that has defined the three graduating classes the program has had since the spring.
Jephta Edouard, a September graduate of the program, continues her close relationship with the school even being invited to taste the current student’s presentations.
“The first two weeks were very hard, but it was a great experience for me,” Edouard said. “I’m Haitian, so I didn’t know that much about American cuisine. Learning new skills let me show my family what I learned and lets you go to a job where you love what you do.”
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Getting students properly acclimated to the pace and resources of a commercial kitchen requires access to similar facilities on campus. The culinary laboratory includes everything one would expect to prepare high-end cuisine down to the expansive walk-in spice pantry. To complete the experience, the adjoining dining room is where students showcase their plating.
Those in the bartending training program also have a full bar with which to practice.
“Culinary has always been close to my heart. This field has been engrained in my family, so I know how important it is to have them in our community. I know how hard they have to work and how dedicated they have to be,” said Kara Funkhouser, director of Continuing Education, Workforce Development, and Youth Initiatives.
Those who take part in the program also get career training in concert with social services support, career development and job placement assistance. Students take part in mock interviews and learn the importance of building industry relationships.
Offering a training program that allows students to be free of debt and get them into the workforce is twice the blessing for the community college that prides itself on meeting the needs of the job market across the state.
According to Funkhouser, who has also worked in the culinary field, it also sparks the drive to become entrepreneurs.
“I’m fortunate to see a change in these students as they go through these programs since not all of them are this long or as involved. But we do get to get to know these students well to make sure they get many skills under their belt to go out into the workforce and be that much more marketable,” Funkhouser said.
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Graduates earn the ServSafe certification and job placement support to land jobs at leading venues in the region’s hotel and restaurant industry.
“This program addresses so many needs for so many students like those seeking employment with an employable skill,” said Kristin Mallory, Ph.D., vice president for Academic Affairs at Wor-Wic Community College. “Once these students make it through, the doors are open for them with this certification. We feel this program embodies everything we’re looking for to grow the economic future of our area.”
Among the small class size of six student chefs currently in the program, all have jobs waiting for them following the Dec. 9 graduation.
At the root of this agreement is the Maryland Food Bank and its efforts to help underserved communities.
“The Maryland Food Bank has pooled what was expected for the students that complete this program and also the basic information that would be needed for culinary skills. As we offer culinary certificates and associate degrees here at the college, we’re able to have partnerships to achieve their goals,” Mallory said.
Commencement for the next two classes will be April 6, 2023, and June 30, 2023.
“We’re an organization built on partnerships all across our state and we’re constantly looking for organizations that can help us fill a void in underserved communities,” said Carmen Del Guercio, president & CEO of the Maryland Food Bank.
“The college was unique in the sense that we wanted to replicate the success of a program we already have with a culinary program here in Baltimore. We wanted to take this program on the road, and Wor-Wic’s reputation in the Salisbury market is so strong,” Del Guercio said.
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Nekeisia Booyer, chief programs officer for the Maryland Food Bank, added the holidays are a challenging for families, especially those in communities with food insecurity.
“This time of the year has a level of strain that’s not a day-to-day occurrence for many. I think the relationships matter to provide a foundational support for culinary arts students. It’s beyond providing a structure for the curriculum,” Booyer said.
The pandemic, general economic inflation and preexisting poverty have created a perfect storm of conditions for food needs.
According to the Maryland Food Bank, the need is so profound, the organization distributed 62 million meals in 2021. As of March 2022, two-thirds of the U.S. population has been living paycheck to paycheck, the food bank found.
While job security for the program’s graduates is strong, they also enter an economy poised for growth among the cooks and restaurant field.
“With the pandemic, our industry was the hardest hit. So there were many open positions before the pandemic and now there’s more available. Given that we are a very seasonal area, it’s difficult to find people in that profession who want to work,” said Susan Jones, executive director of Ocean City Hotel, Motel, and Restaurant Association.
Jones noted partnerships that get well-trained workers into jobs sooner rather than later are vital to a number of regional businesses.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Employment Projections for 2021-2031 expects the U.S. economy is projected to add 8.3 million jobs in that time. Total employment is projected to increase from 158.1 million to 166.5 million and grow 0.5 percent annually, which is slower than the 1.0 percent annual growth recorded over the 2011-21 decade.
Among occupations with the most job growth slated for the decade projections are cooks and those in the restaurant industry adding an estimated 459.9 positions, or a 36.6% change. It comes only second to the home health industry.
Among the fastest growing occupations, cooks and those in the restaurant industry come in fifth following nurse practitioners, wind turbine service technicians, lobby attendants and those in the motion picture projection industry.
By industry, the leisure and hospitality sectors are projected to experience the fastest employment growth of all, owing mostly to an increased demand following the pandemic. The report noted nearly three quarters of the jobs lost in leisure and hospitality during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 had yet to be recovered in 2021.
Maryland’s November jobs report said there was an increase of 800 leisure and hospitality jobs in October.
“In addition, the food services and drinking places industry is expected to have the largest employment increase of any industry, adding about 1.3 million jobs over 2021–31,” the U.S. report said.
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