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Thanksgiving week marks the start of the holiday season and it’s always a special time on Saint Leonard’s campus. Of course, there is plenty of food to enjoy during the holidays. For residents and staff, food is so much more than sustenance. Food at Saint Leonard’s Ministries is about dignity, community and caring for each other.
We enjoy telling people about our service model that provides housing to lay the foundation for careers, educational opportunities and better health.
But the foundation of it all might really be the food.
As we welcome Thanksgiving, food is the focus at Saint Leonard’s Ministries.
Every day – and holiday – we offer three meals to residents, community participants, staff and visitors at our on-campus cafeteria.
“First and foremost, it is important for us to create a space where everyone feels like they’re home with family eating good food,” says Chief Administrative Officer Ivory Snow. “It’s all about a vibe here. That starts the moment folks walk into the kitchen.”
That vibe is buffet-style service that always features protein and vegetarian options. Salt is kept to a minimum. Sugary drinks are rare. Flavor and spice are plentiful.
“The way the food is prepared and presented is done in a way where if you go to a soul food restaurant on the West Side, it’s going to look like our kitchen and cafeteria,” Snow says. “Everything we do, the fact that our residents may be justice-involved, this is their home. They are deserving of food that, without saying anything, it says you are loved, respected and you deserve a great meal.”
And if you want fine dining, we have that too.
It’s the Culinary Skills Class that fuels bodies and minds for people to work toward their goals.
“What we do is, we feed the soul,” says Chef Golden Moore.
Moore – a two-time winner of televised competitions on the Food Network – leads the 10-week class that meets every weekday in the Michael Barlow Center. In a commercial-style kitchen, students learn about food-handling safety, equipment safety, nutrition, cooking techniques for global cuisine, use of ingredients and heating options.
Graduates earn a ServSafe food handler’s certificate, and they find job opportunities in hospitality, healthcare, sports, entertainment and other venues.
“The best part of this experience is when a participant comes through the training program, and they land the job that can take care of themselves and their family,” Moore says.
Health and nutrition are baked into the curriculum.
Students learn why chain restaurants can be addictive with their emphasis on salt and sugar. Everything in the class is made from scratch.
“Nothing comes out of a box,” Moore says. “We learn how to do a bunch of different healthy-cooking applications. It isn’t always deep frying. We’re roasting, sautéing and cooking global dishes from all seven continents.”
“Do we want to add butter to everything? Absolutely. But is it heart-healthy? Not at all. I love porkchops and gravy, but everything in moderation.”
Back at the campus cafeteria, moderation won’t be strictly enforced Thursday at the Saint Leonard’s feast. The Thanksgiving meal will include turkey, ham, dressing, candied yams, dessert and more.
“We really do it big for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner,” Snow says. “And if folks want to bring their families, they’re allowed to have visitors. We want to make it feel like this is your home.”
“We want folks to start and end their day with a great meal. That’s our small way of empowering people.”