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Cafe does more than feed the hungry

July 28, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
There are plenty of social services in Southern California helping those is need, but the St. Joseph's Center in Venice has a unique café that does far more than feed the hungry."Along with the turkey breast sandwich we're serving couscous, along with Israeli couscous and quinoa," said Derek Walker, head chef at Bread and Roses Café.

You'll find food banks and shelters feeding those in need, but the Bread and Roses Café in Venice dishes out a different scenario than most soup kitchens. Flowers on the table and sit down meal service creates dining with dignity.

"They have to actually reserve a space the day before they're going to be coming in and be seated," said Va Lecia Adams, St. Joseph's executive director.

There are three servings daily, but by reservation only. Adams says it's not for snob appeal, but as a way to give more to those in need.

"It also connects them to case management and housing services, and obviously the kinds of services that we hope eventually will help them get off the streets," said Adams.

For 20 years running they've created inexpensive yet healthy meals for those less fortunate.

"It averages between 50 cents and a dollar per person, so it's really amazing what you can do," said Walker.

Through aid from the food bank, Whole Foods Markets and private donations, they served nearly 27,000 meals last year.

An interesting twist to this cafe is the culinary training program, where disadvantaged adults get free training to become skilled in the food and beverage industry.

"This is an outreach effort for those individuals who are interested in vocational training, have had some difficulties in employment, maybe even some bumps along the way," said Adams.

Sixteen students train at a commercial kitchen less than a mile from the café for a 10-week program. Kelly Woodland, who recently finished her externship at the Peninsula Hotel, is now a café volunteer while looking for work.

"Being here gives you a real hands-on, I guess, like a hands-on feel for a real commercial kitchen environment," said Woodland.

"We have about a 70 percent success rate right now as far as placement and retention," said Walker.

Innovative food service and education are just two ways the cafe helps to empower those who are struggling.

"We want to always meet demand, but our hope is always that we decrease the number of people living on the streets every day," said Adams.

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