Community Table

Volunteers and staff prepare a meal at The Community Table, where a new program is giving FoodShare recipients the chance to get job training in the food industry.

Conventional wisdom holds that you can’t have your cake and eat it too, but some Chippewa Valley residents are finding a way to receive food assistance at the same time they are helping feed other residents and learning job skills that might help them put food on their own tables.

The program making it all happen, called Community Culinary Academy, is a partnership between The Community Table in Eau Claire and Menomonie-based Workforce Resource.

Eight people enrolled in an eight-day session that began Monday and seeks to give participants in the state FoodShare aid program training and hands-on experience in the food and hospitality industry, which has been struggling to find enough workers. The individuals in the program get training in a high-demand industry while at the same time helping prepare food for guests at The Community Table.

“This is a win on so many fronts,” said Michelle Koehn, executive director of The Community Table. “It’s a chance for people who maybe haven’t worked for a few years to not only get back into the workforce, but to help others in need at the same time.”

The program also serves up a side dish of self-confidence for people who may need it to get back into the workforce.

“It’s amazing what eight days of training can do for an individual’s confidence,” Koehn said.

Job training topics addressed in the pilot program include a foundation for working in kitchens, introductory nutrition, food-handling safety and guest services.

Pete Raleigh, operations director at The Community Table, directs the training and considers it a second chance for people who need gainful employment. He estimates that about 90 percent of the curriculum involves hands-on learning.

“They learn a lot. They do everything you do in a kitchen, including learning how to use commercial-grade appliances,” Raleigh said.

Koehn noted that the soup kitchen will be able to serve fruit and vegetable chips to guests because the trainees learned how to use a dehydrator.

After completion of the training, participants have the opportunity to pass a test to earn a food handling certificate that could improve their chances of landing a job in the industry, Raleigh said.

“It’s a great program and a great opportunity, and it’s free,” said Marianne Guntner, FoodShare employment and training program manager for Workforce Resource.

The program satisfies the work requirements for some FoodShare participants — able-bodied adults younger than 50 without dependent children.

The program’s last of four sessions this year is scheduled from Sept. 9 to 19, and interested individuals can contact The Community Table at 715-835-4977 for more information.