Jeff Bacon has worked in kitchens his entire life, but it was only after a brush with the law that he realized food could change lives. “I ended up mixed up with drugs and alcohol, running with a wild crowd, losing job after job … I was great at what I did, but I wasn’t a very good person,” Bacon says.
After serving two years in prison for drug possession and resisting arrest, Bacon says he experienced a spiritual awakening. “I firmly, firmly heard from God, ‘This is not what you’re supposed to be doing with your life. You need to do something more, and you need to give back the second chance that you got.’”
Bacon wanted to use his passion for food to give back to the community of Winston-Salem, N.C., where one in seven people struggles with hunger. After years of pitching the idea of a culinary training school, Bacon was finally able to launch Providence Culinary Training Program through a partnership with the Second Harvest Food Bank.
The program trains people in all aspects of food service, and students prepare meals for local community members in need. “It’s not the food scarcity and the food insecurity, though that is a crushing and urgent and acute problem… but it’s the root causes,” says Bacon. “[It’s] the root causes of poverty, the inequalities of our society — we’re not just ill-prepared to deal with them, we’re ill-prepared to even discuss them intelligently.”
Through the Providence program, students receive 12 weeks of culinary training, as well as connections in the food industry and opportunities for long-term internships and jobs. Many of the participants enter the program facing obstacles to stable employment, such as a criminal background or a lack of higher education. But after completing their training, 87 percent of graduates retain steady employment one year later.
Watch the video above to learn more about the Providence program and meet some of the people who have turned their lives around through it.