From Homelessness to Helping

With our latest Food Service Training Academy underway, students are learning culinary skills and we’re learning about them. One of our students, Danielle, said she’s ready for what this part of her journey has in store.

In her 50s, Danielle has experienced the good and the bad, but she knows that she can “either feel bitter because of the bad things” or she can “do better because of the bad things.”

She chose the latter.

“I come from a walk of life where I did some good things [and] I did some bad things,” Danielle said. “I lived through drug addictions. I lived through jails and institutions. I lived through the death of my mother and raising my three siblings. I lived through homelessness.”

All of the challenges she faced brought her to the FSTA. Danielle calls the 16-week culinary program a blessing because it is a chance for her to do something she loves.

Although she knows how to cook, Danielle came to the academy to learn the ins-and-outs of a busy commercial kitchen to improve her catering business (Sandy Apples) and to own a food truck that provides healthy foods for the most vulnerable in her community.

Currently, she goes to Penn Station in Newark to serve those in need. Danielle gives them homemade soups, sandwiches, fruits and water. She said she understands how they feel, as she was once homeless herself.

“The greatest part in my life is helping someone who doesn’t know where they’re going to sleep and what they’re going to eat for the rest of the week, not just that day,” Danielle said.

In addition to substance abuse and homelessness, Danielle struggled with obesity. She even watched her mother die at a young age due to the diseases linked to her weight. That is when she “realized I needed to do something different with my life.” Danielle taught herself to eat better, exercise and take care of her mental health because they are all intertwined. She is proud to say that she lost 127 pounds.

As an FSTA student, Danielle is excited for what she will learn in the coming weeks.

“I’m really grateful because some people don’t have another chance at life,” she said, describing the culinary school as her opportunity to train for a career she’s passionate about.

Every day she attends class, she feels like she’s “being a productive member of society and [knows] these people [the FoodBank’s culinary team] love us.”

Even with the pain she feels on some days from the many surgeries she’s had, Danielle said that coming to class brightens her mood.

As she put it, “the pain I feel in my body is nothing compared to the joy I feel in my heart doing something I love.”