Cooking Up Change

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The food provided by the Capital Area Food Bank becomes much more than a meal when it reaches the hands of students in the culinary job training program of our nonprofit partner La Cocina VA. The vegetables, beans, grains and other ingredients that the CAFB makes available serve as the “tools” with which students practice their knife cuts, sautéing techniques, and other culinary skills while preparing meals for those in need.

In La Cocina VA’s bilingual program, 9 students from Spanish-speaking countries receive the important training they’ll need to work as restaurant chefs by preparing meals with high nutritional value for other area nonprofits serving low-income families and the homeless. Food safety certification, nutrition lessons, and more are also provided to students over the 13 weeks before graduation.

Maribel, who came to the US from Honduras, was jobless and feeling lost when she discovered the power that food could have in shaping her future.  “One day it occurred to me, it was time to do something different, get back to work. So I sat down with a friend of mine and said . . . ‘Help me figure out what to do.’”

Today, Maribel is a student at La Cocina, where she’s creating new opportunities for herself and enabling healthier lives for others. The nutritious meals that she and other students cook are paired with one of the CAFB’s bilingual recipes, and distributed to the thousands of neighbors across Northern Virginia who need them. La Cocina VA is one of 100 CAFB food assistance partners in Virginia providing balanced meals for over 133,000 residents struggling with hunger in that region.

La Cocina’s chef trainer Marysabel Taboada shows the CAFB recipe that accompanies that day’s meal, which will be delivered by La Cocina VA volunteers.

Being part of something bigger makes it easy for Maribel to report for class every day. “When we send the food [to people], it’s like sending it to our family,” says Maribel. “I know we’re not sending something we’re not going to eat. It has to have vegetables–today we have carrots, beans, chicken, and caramelized onions. Just a little tiny bit makes a difference in the flavors.”

Because of the nutritious food from the CAFB, thousands of people receive life changing meals through LA Cocina.  And because La Cocina can invest in its programming and students rather than paying for food, its job training program offers brighter futures for students like Maribel.

Psst! See more online: Maribel told us her story on camera and let us share the videos—check them out