By Brandon Lipps
Acting Deputy Under Secretary, Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services
Recently, I was privileged to visit The Light House, Inc., in Annapolis, Maryland, a local organization using SNAP Employment and Training and other tools to help people in their community break the cycle of homelessness.
Two common causes for homelessness in America today are unemployment and poverty, with one feeding into the other in a continuous cycle. Programs that help the homeless develop employment skills can help break that cycle, allowing them to obtain a good-paying job and move into stable employment. The path to self-sufficiency begins with a stable job.
At the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, we work with our state and local partners to help move SNAP participants beyond the barriers homeless people face toward independence and self-sufficiency.
Led by Executive Director Jo Ann Mattson, The Light House, Inc. provides meal services, a food pantry, housing support, a Career Clothes Closet, and workforce training and development. Its Building Employment Success Training (B.E.S.T.) program provides job training and skills designed to help residents find sustainable employment, make a living wage, and achieve self-sufficiency. B.E.S.T. includes a culinary skills program where students learn all aspects of food preparation, nutrition, and catering.
FNS staff hear about the culinary skills program run by Light House, Inc. in Annapolis, Maryland.
My visit included a stop at The Light House Bistro in downtown Annapolis, a social enterprise business that employs many graduates of the B.E.S.T. culinary skills school. It was wonderful to see in person how The Bistro provides an environment where participants can continue learning while also developing their resume putting them on a path to becoming self-sufficient.
I met Chef Linda Vogler, the B.E.S.T. program Executive Training Chef, who shared how rewarding it is to see the intense pride her culinary school students exude after landing a job at The Bistro. “Some students tell me their training and employment is the first thing they ever finished,” said Chef Vogler, “and we encourage a collegial atmosphere here at The Bistro, allowing veteran B.E.S.T. program graduates and Bistro employees to act as mentors to current students and recent graduates. “It’s easy for me to give back because of what was given to me,” says Tiffany, one of The Bistro’s star employees, “It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
The Bistro General Manager and Training Chef Beth Rocca gave us a tour of the kitchen where I had a chance to speak with the line cooks and sous chefs who recently graduated the culinary skills course. It was impressive to see first-hand how The Light House works to put SNAP participants on a path toward self-sufficiency.
At USDA, we are committed to supporting work and self-sufficiency among SNAP participants and we rely on our partners, local organizations using SNAP Employment and Training, to help equip our clients with the training and tools needed to find and maintain stable employment. The Light House is an exemplar of these partnerships, making a real difference in their community and in the lives of the people they serve so passionately.