Ten members of The Culinary School at the Food Bank of Delaware celebrated their achievements on Tuesday, January 31 during a graduation ceremony for 12th class at the Food Bank’s Milford facility. The graduates were Justin Battaglino, Paul Bennett, Honie Cadle, Aubrey Garcia, Marcus Miller, Donta Mitchell, Michelle Nichols, Nitza Valderrama, Anthony White, and Richard Zareo.
Milford Elks Lodge secretary Cyndee Sammons was guest speaker for the event; the Elks Lodge recently hired a Culinary School graduate. Sammons, whose career spanned both culinary and corporate workplaces, advised students “to take responsibilities for your mistakes” and urged them to remember “Everything in your life prepares you for the next step.”
The new graduates also commented and expressed gratitude for the opportunities they received during the 14-week program in which they developed their skills and passion for the culinary arts. From proper knife handling techniques to Serve Safe certification and completing a two-week internship, the students are prepared for entry-level jobs in the food industry.
“It’s been a blessing to be here,” said graduate Nitza Valderrama. “I never thought I would make it through, because I have been through a lot lately. It’s a great opportunity. You learn a lot and now I have a job [at Dover Downs]. When I got here I had no job for five months, now I have a job.”
The students’ tuition was funded through Delaware WONDER (Work Opportunity Networks to Develop Employment Readiness), a federal grant geared to getting people into the workplace and off SNAP benefits. This employment and training program is led by Delaware Health and Social Services Division of Social Services (DHSS), which administers the SNAP Program in Delaware. It offers targeted career tracks in construction, culinary arts, and manufacturing and broad-based job placement.
After the ceremony, graduates served guests a lunch buffet that included baked fish, fried chicken, beef stir fry with rice, macaroni and cheese, shrimp and grits, collard greens, cole slaw, as well as assorted desserts.
“The students worked hard to get to this point,” said Executive Chef Tim Hunter. “Working in the food service industry is a lot of work, but it’s rewarding. The students are going to need the support of their family and friends going forward, especially in this industry where we work a lot of weekends, nights and holidays.”
The mission of The Culinary School is two-fold. First students are taught skills that are highly desirable to employers in the food industry and second, these newly-developed skills have the potential to lead to jobs in the industry that provide job security and economic sustainability.
The next class of The Culinary School in Milford begins Monday, February 13. To learn more about the class, individuals are encouraged to visit http://www.fbd.org/the-culinary-school/.