Free culinary program may be forced to close - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Free culinary program may be forced to close

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) -

By Trang Pham-Bui – bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) –  With professional chefs guiding them through every ingredient, students spent Wednesday preparing a feast for their own graduation on Friday. But this could be the last graduating class at the Culinary Learning Center in east Biloxi. The National Emergency Grant that has funded the program since January of 2009 runs out on June 30th.

"We have graduated 162 individuals and have placed 120 in either prep cook or just line cook jobs along the Gulf Coast," said Project Manager Kathleen Fitzgerald.  "There's such a need for it. The hospitality industry is growing and from a culinary training standpoint, you just do not have that type of training here on the Gulf Coast."

The free eleven-week program includes commercial cooking, food purchasing and meal planning. Students also get work experience and job placement assistance.  The course is geared toward people who are unemployed, forced to relocate, or facing employment barriers because of Katrina.

Tina Becker lost her home, cars, and then her job after the storm.  She's sharpening her cooking skills, hoping to become a chef someday.

"This has given me a new outlook and given me a new lease on life, period, because it was really rough. I've cooked for a long time, but now, I've learned a whole lot more and I have a whole new respect for food," said Becker.

The program needs at least $345,000 to keep going for the next six months. The project manager is seeking any kind of grant, donation, or possibly teaming up with other non-profit agencies to help keep the program alive.

"We're hoping that finally, word's going to get to Gov. Haley Barbour. He's talked about workforce training development and money being there for that type of program," said Fitzgerald.  "We have 200 people on a waiting list currently, trying to get into our program. I can't say it enough, it would be a disservice to this community to see this program discontinue."

The students in the program also use their culinary skills in the community. They have donated nine-thousand hours by cooking for non-profit organizations, senior citizens, and catering events.

The Culinary Center is located at the corner of Lee and Division Streets. For more information on the program, call (228) 432-5656.

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