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Co-op Partners with Shelter to Connect Residents to Food, Employment

Former Hospitality House staff and culinary job training program students shop at BriarPatch Food Co-op.

Finding a job is not a simple task. If you’ve ever looked for work you may have realized that who you know is at least as valuable as what you know and it’s especially challenging if you have limited experience or you’re trying to break into a new industry. For those experiencing homelessness and the associated challenges that come with it, these usual barriers to finding employment can feel insurmountable.

Though there are many reasons people find themselves homeless, unemployment is a leading cause. Each year at the Hospitality House in Grass Valley, California, hundreds of people come to find shelter, food and assistance. Many folks are veterans, have a disability or are single parents trying to find stability for their children. Some may lack the career skills or experience necessary to maintain living wage employment, and some may struggle with low self-esteem and disabilities that have led to a loss of career. Like many shelters, Hospitality House offers job training programs where residents can build career skills and even start to develop a professional network.

“We’re proud to offer both retail and culinary job training programs at Hospitality House,” said Ashley Quadros, Development Director for the shelter. “Both programs are uniquely designed to equip an individual with the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in our local job market.”

But acquiring skills is just one part of the equation and the shelter is grateful to local organizations that help connect students to the wider community. “We’ve been fortunate to have our local food co-op, BriarPatch Food Co-op, as one of our most loyal supporters of the culinary job training program,” continues Quadros. “They’ve been instrumental in connecting our guests to healthy and organic ingredients.”

As a local food destination and strong community partner, the co-op represents opportunity for Hospitality House students. As part of the 12-week culinary job training program, the co-op invites Chef Chris Fagan of Hospitality House to take his students on a field trip to the store to shop, free of charge. The co-op’s entire selection of fresh, local fruits and vegetables, organic dairy and humanely raised meats and sustainable seafood is open to the students. A chef’s dream come true! 

“A high point in the culinary program is definitely our co-op field trips,” adds Quadros. “It’s an opportunity for our students to confidently create recipes from scratch, pick out every individual ingredient with guidance from Chef Chris, and then make the recipe and serve it to 69 people for dinner at the shelter.”

“We’ve been participating in Hospitality House’s culinary job training program since 2015,” says Rebecca Torpie, Marketing Manager at BriarPatch Food Co-op. “It’s one of those partnerships that makes good sense. Food, especially cooking together, is a people connector and we’re grateful that we’re able to play a role in the program.”

The co-op also donates starter plants for the shelter garden, where students can harvest fresh ingredients for their meals daily. The shelter and co-op then collaborated on a fundraising video highlighting the culinary job training program, which has helped increase donations to the shelter.

Graduates of the program report increased self-confidence and more job offers. Over 50% of graduates of the culinary job training program find steady employment in Grass Valley, including at fine dining establishments. This statistic speaks to the quality and value of Hospitality House and its staff, as well as the community-building efforts of local businesses like BriarPatch Food Co-op.

“This program and our Ends are a great match up,” Torpie sums up. “BriarPatch exists to serve its community.”

Congratulations to BriarPatch Food Co-op on their Food Marketing Institute Community Outreach People’s Pick award for their partnership with Hospitality House.