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Catalyst Kitchens: the hero we’ve been hoping for.

Restaurant Non Profit I had an epiphany the other day: you see, I’ve always felt a little guilty about working in the restaurant industry. We get so bent out of shape over tiny details, we yell at each other, get our feelings hurt and yet, at the end of the day, we’re not saving lives. We’re not performing open-heart surgery or promoting world peace.  We’re not finding the cure for cancer or putting an end to poverty. In this world of struggle, sometimes being a chef can feel so frivolous. Yet our jobs are important.  We all need to eat, and we all need the sort of human connection that comes along with sharing meals together. Those of us in foodservice work bravely to promote world peace through physical and emotional nourishment…

However, if you’re looking for a more concrete opportunity to contribute, check out Catalyst Kitchens, an organization that might actually be saving the world through food in a more literal way. Unlike many of us, who see the vast brokenness of the world and are too overwhelmed by the scope of its problems to respond, Catalyst Kitchens saw poverty and hunger and stepped right up to bat, finding a viable solution. Their mission is to provide foodservice job training, buildingself-sufficiency, while providing healthy meals for those in need.

The folks over at Catalyst Kitchens have created a program that genuinely transforms lives, one by one. What began as a pilot program to figure out how to share and expand the success of Seattle-based FareStart, Catalyst Kitchens has grown into a nationwide force of nature, and they are continuing to expand. Their goal is to initiate fifty new programs within the next five years. That would mean job training for 6,000 people and more than 10 million meals provided each year to disadvantaged men, women and kids in our communities.

And, as if their ideas weren’t brilliant enough, their success rates are enough to inspire even the most jaded server on your staff. The program has been implemented by over 30 member organizations stretched across 18 states that, in 2011, collectively provided training to 1,400 at-risk individuals.  60% successfully completed the program. In the same year, Catalyst Kitchens provided over 4.2 million meals to communities in need. Not everyone who enters the program chooses a permanent career in the restaurant industry, but through the power of food they all are given the tools to succeed in whatever field they consequently choose, via foodservice.

Naturally, we are not the only ones taking note.  Catalyst Kitchens attributes much of its success to the generosity of its donors and sponsors, like KNG who recently became the official uniform supplier to Catalyst Kitchens. They also just received a $500,000 grant from the Walmart Foundation, most of it to be re-granted to members, and recently won the 2012 Social Impact Exchange Business Plan Competition held in New York City on June 12th.

All in all, the wonderful people over at Catalyst Kitchens have masterfully created a program that combines passion with progress.  With food and cooking as their medium, they seek to empower and give hope to individuals in need of a boost. If you, like me, have ever found yourself wondering if your gift for the culinary arts could possibly be turned into something more concretely significant, let me encourage you to visit http://www.catalystkitchens.org, find the nearest member organization, and consider hiring one of their graduates.