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San Diego Culinary Program Takes On Hunger, Waste And Barriers To Employment

Inside Kitchens for Good, Dec. 2019.
Ebone Monet
Inside Kitchens for Good, Dec. 2019.

As its name suggests, “Kitchens for Good” uses food, to make a difference.

It’s a culinary program based on the “teach a man to fish” proverb. The program, which serves children in City Heights, works to tackle food insecurity. It also aims to reduce food waste by purchasing surplus food supplies from wholesale sources. And, it trains participants in culinary arts and hospitality to help them build careers.

Aviva Paley co-founded and is a senior director for Kitchens for Good. With a background in public health, Paley said the culinary apprenticeship program started as a way to tackle food waste and hunger, and it has evolved into a job training program where students can develop skills for long-term employment.


“Our students come to us with these labels that feel like they're emblazoned on their foreheads and permanent marker," she said. "Labels like felon, foster kid, homeless mentally ill or addict. And these labels prevent our students from getting a job and restarting their lives. So it's our job to help them remove those labels and we're going to replace them with new chosen titles of cook, employed baker self-sufficient and empowered."

Video: San Diego Culinary Program "Kitchens For Good" Changes Lives One Meal At A Time

Overall Kitchen’s for Good estimates it distributes more than 200,000 meals to hungry San Diegans every year. Also, this year Kitchens for Good will keep more than 120,000 pounds of food from entering the landfill.

The course is 12 weeks long. It serves people who have barriers to unemployment, such as people who were formerly incarcerated or foster youth transitioning out of the system.

Program operators said in addition to kitchen skills, students will learn soft skills, such as the ability to follow instructions, focus and team-work. Once complete, participants earn a certification.

Paley said 86% of the approximate 200 students who have graduated since the program launched four years ago are employed and have remained employed for at least 1½ years.


“Many of our students have gone on to become supervisors, chefs, sous chefs and managers," she said. "And we've got students that are running some of the best kitchens across San Diego and are now hiring other students to work for them and giving back to the program."

Kitchens for Good prepares 500 meals a day, half for catering contracts, and the other for community programs. Its food is served at more than 21 afterschool programs including at the Homework Center in City Heights/Weingart Branch Library.

Kids inside the Homework Center at City Heights Weingart Library, Dec. 2019.
City Heights Weingart Library
Kids inside the Homework Center at City Heights Weingart Library, Dec. 2019.

"Beyond the 'give a man a fish,'" Paley said. "How do we teach a man to fish and look for those empowerment models to really help everyone kind of get a hand up.”