‘Common Table’ opens door to job opportunity

Eneitra Beattie, a graduate of Catholic Charities’ Common Table Culinary Arts program, prepared ratatouille for The Garden Cafe Aug. 23. Beattie, who graduated from the program in April and now works at the Brown-Forman Corporation, filled in for the regular teacher that day. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)
Eneitra Beattie, a graduate of Catholic Charities’ Common Table Culinary Arts program, prepared ratatouille for The Garden Cafe Aug. 23. Beattie, who graduated from the program in April and now works at the Brown-Forman Corporation, filled in for the regular teacher that day. Watch the video of Beattie and refugee students working in the ‘Common Table’ kitchen at the end of this story. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
After a long and tiring journey to get to their new home, many refugees being resettled by Catholic Charities of Louisville are finding hot meals waiting upon their arrival.

The meals are prepared by students in Catholic Charities’ Common Table Culinary Arts program and delivered by social workers who help coordinate the resettlement of refugees.

The “Ready to Eat Meals” is the newest service offered by the culinary arts program, which provides certified culinary and job-skills training to refugees and other unemployed and underemployed individuals.

The Common Table, which started about a year ago, “really helps students find a sense of empowerment and gives them the opportunity to take control of their financial situation and achieve self-sufficiency for their family,” said Laura Stevens, who leads the program.

The Common Table also includes a catering business and a restaurant. And it works closely with another program at Catholic Charities — the Common Earth Gardens.

Students in the culinary arts program use fresh produce from the community garden program, which has nine locations around the Louisville area. The gardens encompass nearly 360 plots worked by 200 growers — mostly refugees, said Stevens.

The Garden Cafe is located in the basement of the West Market Street office and serves lunch on Tuesdays and Thursday. Its menu offers a variety of selections — from typical American fare to ethnic selections.

The catering program has so far provided breakfast and lunch for office meetings and hot meals for fundraisers.

Both have been a success in Stevens’ estimation. According to a report from Catholic Charities, the lunch and catering business generated $15,000 in its first six months.
Stevens said the Common Table program is a social enterprise, with the goal of becoming self-sustaining after its second year. And she aims for it to generate enough revenue after its third year to sustain the Common Earth garden program.

The idea for the culinary arts program started taking shape when a fully equipped commercial kitchen in the basement of the Catholic Charities office on West Market Street was no longer being used by the Dare to Care Kids Cafe.

Tracy Malone, a student in Catholic Charities’ of Louisville’s Common Table Culinary Arts program, sliced strawberries for a strawberry shortcake to be served at the Garden Cafe Aug. 23. The Garden Cafe serves lunch to the public on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Watch the video at therecordnewspaper.org. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)
Tracy Malone, a student in Catholic Charities’ of Louisville’s Common Table Culinary Arts program, sliced strawberries for a strawberry shortcake to be served at the Garden Cafe Aug. 23. The Garden Cafe serves lunch to the public on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Watch the video at therecordnewspaper.org. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

The vacancy in the kitchen coupled with the need to train newly arrived refugees “who have little to no marketable job skills” led to the creation of the program, Stevens said.
Over the course of eight weeks Common Table chef Hank Levitt teaches students about food and kitchen safety and sanitation; food preparation and the basics of cooking.

Stevens and Levitt also teach students how to prepare a resume and what they call “soft job skills,” such as how to call in sick and the importance of arriving on time.
Refugee students also learn how to operate a cash register and give change in United States currency.

Students who complete the program receive the ServSafe food-handlers permit needed to work in the food industry. And the program helps them find a job, said Stevens.

She noted there’s a shortage of restaurant employees in Louisville and employers have responded positively to the training program.
Eighteen students have graduated from the culinary program and have found employment at local companies, such as the Brown-Forman Corporation, Mussel and Burger Bar and Queen of Sheba Restaurant.

Stevens noted that while some students have found work at restaurants, the program aims to place them in industries with more “reliable hours and benefits.” Some graduates of the program have found work at Marriott Hotels and the University of Louisville.

She also noted that the program helps to build leadership skills in some of the refugee women who didn’t have previous working experience. Each student has the opportunity to lead the class in choosing and preparing the lunch menu for a day. Many choose to share recipes from their homelands. Having the opportunity to “teach others about that part of their lives is impactful,” said Stevens.

New classes start every other month. The next class will start Sept. 6. For more information about the program and enrollment, contact Stevens at 636-9263 ext. 256.

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