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Arkansas culinary program making a difference one person and one meal at a time

Food Jobs Work believes a simple, healthy meal can go a long way for someone who is struggling.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Food Jobs Work is on a mission one person -- and now one meal -- at a time.

"Normally, what we do is a six-week training program for at-risk adults -- mostly people coming out of incarceration -- but we also serve people who have been homeless or in poverty or addiction. Anything where they need a hand up," Food Jobs Work executive director Christie Ison said.

It prepares students for jobs in hospitality and food service.

The program was forced to suspend classes in March 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Ison said that was heartbreaking but ultimately came as a blessing of sorts.

"We were able to develop the social enterprises that we never had a chance to do when we were so busy with our training program, she said."

That includes the development of a community meals program.

"That's where we serve people in shelters or churches or food pantries helping people in need," Ison said. "We make meals both big pans of food and little TV tray kind of things."

Ison and production chef Lauren McCants started the outreach in March 2021 by preparing about 600 meals per week. They hope to secure the funding to double or triple that number.

"We just want to provide healthy options for them," McCants said. "People are struggling desperately so anything we can do to help."

She believes a simple, healthy meal can go a long way for someone who is struggling.

The program plans to welcome back its students this summer. The community meals program will provide employment and an opportunity for them to further their education.

"Teaching them some new skills that maybe they'll get the application of what they learn in class, Ison said. "And also getting them used to a regular work schedule so that when they're done with us they're ready to go get a job in the real world."

Food Jobs Work has also launched Comeback Kitchen, a food production business where students' skills can translate into food products that the public can purchase.

They're offering hummus at several local retailers to start but plan to add additional products. Each purchase supports the program and its mission, according to Ison.

Click here for more information about Food Jobs Work, including how you can volunteer and support the program financially.

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