BY GWEN FRISBIE-FULTON
“I love that it has to be just so,” Mary Moore says, smiling and running her hands over the tablecloth, smoothing it. “Just perfect.”
Mary is sitting in a beam of sunlight in Second Harvest’s Providence Restaurant in Winston-Salem, taking a short break from her duties back-of-the-house. A graduate of Triad Community Kitchen, Mary knew she wanted to work at Providence the first time she and her classmates visited. Now she is finishing up the two-year Hospitality Residency Program at the restaurant, and she is learning the ins and outs of the industry. She has a very peaceable demeanor, and her face is rosy and kind.
But only a few years ago things felt very hard for this single mother of two. Working as a receptionist at a veterinary clinic, she was making wages that did not always make ends meet. Between childcare and housing costs, she and her children sometimes had to go to a food pantry to help shore up their carefully balanced lives. She finally moved back to Winston-Salem, her hometown, to be closer to the support of family. “I was in a rut. I was burned out on what I had been doing for so long. I wanted something new, but knew that I didn’t want to be in a box.”
That is when she learned about Triad Community Kitchen.
Mary was no stranger to kitchens. From being a cafe’s “salad girl” through high school to working at a country club during college, she had a strong foundation to work from. But while Triad Community Kitchen teaches core culinary skills, it offers something else that was equally important according to Mary. “They listened, they understood where I was, and they helped,” she said.
Back at Second Harvest Food Bank, the Triad Community Kitchen teaching kitchen is bustling with activity. Students are chopping carrots, tending to large vats of soup, rolling dough. It’s much quieter in the classroom, where Client Advocacy Manager Lindsay Bledsoe teaches Life Skills. Lindsay doesn’t skip a beat. “Homelessness. Mental illness. Lack of adequate childcare.”
These are the barriers that Lindsay sees over and over for women coming into the Triad Community Kitchen Program. “They are put into very hard situations; some are leaving abusive relationships and living ‘couch to couch’ or between shelters; some hold several degrees, but have undiagnosed mental illnesses and no support; most of them are mothers and simply don’t have access to affordable childcare.” In other words, these women feel stuck, they feel left behind, and they feel judged for where they are.
While women across social classes in the United States face impediments in their careers–from unequal wages to time lost due to parenting duties–for low-income women, the impact of these hurdles is profoundly magnified. Unstable housing situations make showing up to work on time a feat of strength; undiagnosed mental health issues like depression become exacerbated by calls from creditors and cars repeatedly breaking down; childcare falling through at the last minute puts your job in jeopardy.
Lindsay explains that Triad Community Kitchen often accepts female students who then must delay their start date at the school because they cannot find adequate child care–Lindsay will help, but waiting lists for assistance can be months long, causing women to have to turn down opportunities. “They are beaten down,” says Lindsay of the women she works with at Triad Community Kitchen “They have decided that it is their time and are looking for that safe place. We want that to be here.”
Back at Providence, Mary is preparing to head back into the kitchen as the lunch hour approaches. “I do think women have a hard time,” she says reflectively. Many women she knows are raising children on their own and, as she says, “have to be the mom and the dad.”
But, she points out, these hardships are exactly why women like herself can…and will…succeed. “It clicks when you become a mother,” she says. “It’s not just me–I have two people behind me. But you would be surprised what you can do when you are given nothing to work with.”
It’s this incredible resilience and resourcefulness that Mary and all the Triad Community Kitchen alums have brought to program that has made it so successful.
Learn more about Second Harvest’s Triad Community Kitchen (TCK) Program and growing family of social enterprises, including Providence Restaurant & Catering, at hungernwnc.org. Better yet, invite your friends to join you for lunch or an after work meal at Providence, where all proceeds from your tab support the TCK culinary training program and fresh starts for people like Mary. Speaking of fresh starts…you are invited to the Second Annual Fresh Starts Full Plates Gala – an uplifting evening of fantastic food supporting the life changing work of Second Harvest Food Bank’s TCK/Providence programs.