Loaves and fishes lends a helping hand to community

NICK CAMPBELL, Staff writer

Tucked away in a remote location off Harbor and Garcia Avenues, one of Contra Costa County’s hardest working charities had just closed for the evening. For Loaves And Fishes, founded in 1983, it is all in a day’s work.

By the numbers, their success is wide-ranging and far-reaching. The organization has served over 4.5 million meals to families in need throughout Contra Costa County. The organization has thousands of volunteers across its network and served over 138,000 meals while distributing over 252 tons of groceries during the 2017-2018 fiscal year.

Besides its reputation for being cost-effective and well-respected, Loaves and Fishes puts a focus on training, nutrition skills, and job placement. Part of that job placement training program is centered around the organization’s Culinary Training Internship. Founded in 2016 and led by Head Chef Ted Elsner, the program has a partnership with the Martinez Unified School District.

Students from the local alternative high school, Vicente High, participate in the program and earn academic credit and safe serve accreditation. The program teaches students basic food preparation and cooking techniques. The instructors also work with students to learn the proper and safe operation of a commercial kitchen.

The program also places students into the Diablo Valley Community College Culinary Arts program. In addition to the potential DVC placement, many students obtain jobs in the culinary industry. Chef Ted Elsner, who has a background that is rooted in the French Cuisine style, noted how the program is flexible for any genre or cook.

“We teach our students the value of cooking to appeal to their market and to develop their existing cooking skills,” said Elsner. The students in the program come from different skill levels in regards to cooking ability – no minimum experience is required and the program has also seen former clients of Loaves and Fishes come out of the internship.

Many of the staff at Loaves and Fishes have been with the organization for a long time. Chef and Kitchen Manager, James Porter, has been with the organization since 2002. He’s originally from Arkansas and came to California in 1989 but soon after returned home after the Loma Prieta earthquake. Once homeless himself, his work and giving back to the community is a focal point for Porter.

“I work with a passion, I’m giving back what they once gave me,” said Porter.

Employees like Porter are definitely the heart of the charitable acts that Loaves and Fishes performs everyday. The mission of the organization is centered around the community. Executive Director Joleen Lafayette observed the success of their culinary internship.

“The culinary program is important to our mission,” said Lafayette. Indeed, the program boasts high success rates. Their previous class had 17 interns, with 8 acquiring jobs in the culinary industry. Christian Picatoste, a student intern in the program, has plans to explore a career in culinary arts.

“Once I’m done I plan to enroll in the DVC culinary program,” said Picatoste.

The mission of Loaves and Fishes is manifesting with the success stories of its own staff. With the holiday season fast approaching, volunteers and donations are always welcome. If you are interested in the Culinary Internship, contact Ted Elsner at (925) 293-4792 and if you would like to volunteer or donate you can visit their website at www.loavesfishescc.org