CHICAGO (CBS) -- On this Foodie Friday, a restaurant keeping both comfort and community in mind.
Digital journalist Jamaica Ponder takes us to a cozy café and restaurant in East Garfield Park that's serving up food and opportunities.
Inspiration Kitchens is one arm of the Inspiration Corporation, a Chicago-based non-profit that's been fighting to eradicate poverty, and address inequity in the city for more than 30 years.
With Inspiration Kitchen, they're working to do that through making a culinary education – and eventually a career – more accessible to members of the community who otherwise might not get a shot in a professional kitchen.
"Inspiration Kitchens is really a natural outgrowth of Inspiration Corp, and we've been around for over 30 years as an organization. Serving food has always been core to our mission. We started out doing café service for folks experiencing poverty and homelessness, and kind of a natural outgrowth of that was our food service training program. We had a kitchen we weren't using, so we started teaching people how to cook. And Inspiration Kitchens, where we are today, it's been around for about 10 years, and it is our social enterprise restaurant, and our food service training facility," said Inspiration Corporation chief development officer Mary Coy.
The Inspiration Food Service Training Program prepares its cohorts for culinary careers right from the restaurant's kitchen.
They can fit up to 15 students at a time, training them in a myriad of culinary arts, from pastry to using a pizza oven. After hitting certain benchmarks, students are matched with jobs in kitchens across the city, or they can opt to work in-house at the Inspiration Kitchens restaurant.
Samarra Henderson went through the program more than 10 years ago. When she graduated, she decided to stay and work on site.
"Right before I graduated, I was offered the job as the line cook. I took that, kind of kept my head down, kept working, and just kept going up from there," she said.
Now she's the restaurant's head chef.
"What's really unique is, first, the name: Inspiration. Like, when you hear that, it's like, 'Oh, it could be a cliché, and you come in, and you understand that it's really inspirational, because you have individuals that have so many barriers that they're welcomed with dignity and respect. They're treated just as well as the next person that they're sitting with," she said. "So if you were homeless, if you were incarcerated, if you just wanted to change your current trajectory of your career, we offer that."
"We have a philosophy of dine well, do good; because everything that comes into the restaurant from what they're purchasing from us goes right back into our food service training program," said general manager Julio Gonzales.
"If people are wanting to address those issues of equity and as an organization, we try to do that. We are addressing hunger, homelessness, poverty. We do have a housing program where we connect people to housing resources and housing access. We do have the meals and engagement program, where we're helping people not only get good nourishment, but also really helping them stabilize and connect to the resources they need," Coy said. "So when folks come to dine here, they're making a contribution to all of that work."
"Then to get an opportunity to do something that you love, and be able to make a living out of it, and be able to help individuals become self-sufficient, and go out and do something that they never thought that they can do, it's beautiful," Henderson said.
Whether you're in the neighborhood or not, stop in and grab yourself a bite to eat. The food is fantastic, and every dollar spent helps the Inspiration Corp in their larger fight against poverty, homelessness and food insecurity. You really can come in, fill up your stomach, and fill up your soul at the same time.
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