Chicago's Community Kitchens program helps with kitchen, life skills

The Chicago's Community Kitchens program, which is run by the Greater Chicago Food Depository, helps unemployed and underemployed people advance in the food service industry and get back on their feed.

Julie Beland is among those who have been helped. Three years ago, she completed a 10-year sentence in an Illinois prison.

"I was not in good place. I was a drug addict, I was an alcoholic, I was on the verge of death. Prison actually saved my life," said Beland, a Chicago's Community Kitchens graduate.

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About a month after getting out, Beland -- who already had a passion for the restaurant industry -- enrolled in the program.

Beland finished the program off with a two week internship at the Buzz Cafe in Oak Park, which eventually led to a job.

"At the Buzz Cafe, I'm also a chef here, a barista, I work up front, I've gotten good at pouring coffee," she said. "I do serve, I do some of our baking."

Beland now has her own apartment and was recently promoted to a full-time manager -- something she never thought would come her way.

"Some people have a background that prevent them from getting a job in the community. And with me having a background, I figured this was going to be my best opportunity to get a good job," she said. ""I've done more things now than I ever did. It's great to be able to pay bills, it's great to have a credit card, that I can actually pay off. I'm where I want to be right now."

The program helps individuals in all aspects, including how to get a job afterwards.

"For 12 weeks, they're in the kitchen, working on their knife skills and then they'll also learn life skills. So, how to interview, maybe connections to housing, different kinds of ways to help them get back on their feet," said Jess Lynk, public relations specialist for the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

The Greater Chicago Food Depository and the Northern Illinois Food Bank are partners in ABC7's "Share the Joy" campaign.
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