Give a man a meal and he's fed for one day. Teach him to cook and he might just be set for a lifetime.
That's the hope behind a new partnership with the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma and Youth Services.
It's a 16-week culinary trade program, giving young adults a shot at a career in the food industry, and skills to last a lifetime.
Michael Boyle and Kyle Kirk have every right to be proud of Thursday, or as they know it, graduation day. Of the six students who started the program in August, they are the only two to go the distance.
It wasn't easy. Boyle recalls serving 300 families on Thanksgiving.
“That was the most eye opening moment I've ever had. Being able to say I was a part of that, being able to say I did that. Ain't nobody can take that from me,” Boyle said.
If anything, Kirk's path was even rockier. We first met him in September when he told us he grew up in DHS custody and found himself adrift after aging out of foster care system.
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“I've been homeless off and on for the past four years of my life,” he said.
But Kirk found help at Youth Services, which led him to the Food Bank's executive chef, Jeff Marlow.
He was determined that Kirk's passion for food would be enough to pull his life in a new direction, but that wasn't easy either.
“There were times when I had to go to his apartment, and wake him up and bring him to work, but I got him here and he finished strong,” Marlow said.
“Sometimes you finally have to say, ‘I'm ready to move on, you know, and actually finish something.' There are very few things I can say I finished in this life, but I have finished this program,” said Kirk.
Finishing the program is no small thing; in fact, it has so much potential, it caught the eye of the Taylor Lobeck Foundation, which pledged to sponsor future classes.
Food bank Executive Director Eileen Bradshaw said, along with culinary skills, the program gave the first two graduates a new sense of confidence.
Bradshaw said, “It's been a great thing to see their journey from, kind of kitchen newbies who were kind of interested in food, to two young men who now could step into any restaurant and really be of great value.”
The partnership also provides a great value to the food bank by supplying extra hands to help turn out hundreds of meals every day to feed the hungry.
Boyle said being part of that effort has a value that no diploma can measure.
“Just being a part of something bigger than myself is great. Being able to say I fed 16,000 people is greater,” he said.
Michael has already landed a job at one of Tulsa's top restaurants, Kyle is still job hunting.
The next class in the culinary trade program kicks off next week with another six students.