At 7:30 a.m. the Greater Chicago Food Depository already is a bustling place. Students in the Chicago’s Community Kitchens program—the Food Depository’s free foodservice training program for unemployed and underemployed adults—are already hard at work preparing meals for Food Depository sites throughout Cook County. I stopped by the kitchen to see what students were cooking up.

On the menu this morning was a curry chicken breast over roasted sweet potatoes, paired with a side of cauliflower and broccoli with a pumpkin-spice muffin for dessert. These meals—prepared from scratch with fresh ingredients—will be packaged as individual heat-and-serve meals that are delivered to older adult residences and member food pantries for distribution.

Donna McCamley is working on chopping the broccoli for this meal. Donna, 50, is in her eighth week of the 14-week program and cannot believe how quickly the past two months have passed. “It’s going by really fast,” she said. “But I love it, I really do.”

Donna has an infectious smile and happily chats with me about her favorite Chicago’s Community Kitchens recipe (chicken and rice with foccatia bread) and her future plans (owning her own organic restaurant on the West Side, a food desert that lacks healthy food options). So, I’m not completely surprised when Donna tells me she learned about the program in the most unlikely of places: a CTA bus. One day, carrying a cake she decorated herself, Donna struck up a conversation with a fellow passenger who happened to have a sister who recently graduated from the Chicago’s Community Kitchens program. The friendly stranger encouraged Donna to check it out.

During a time when so many Cook County residents are struggling to make ends meet, it is inspiring to hear how Chicagoans continue to look out for one another, and to see Donna going after her goal with such enthusiasm. With partners like Donna, we can end hunger in our community.

Learn more about the Chicago’s Community Kitchens program at www.chicagosfoodbank.org/cck.

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