Fueled by passion: Seaford student loves cooking, helping others

July 7, 2023

Janelle West describes herself as a woman with a passion – cooking. In fact, it’s been a lifelong passion; she learned to cook from her mother and her grandmother, and her focus combines that passion to gain future employment and to help other people.

So, she set out on a mission. After this Seaford resident learned that two family members finished the Food Bank of Delaware’s Culinary School training, Janelle reached out to her DVR (Division of Vocational Rehabilitation) caseworker to register for the first Milford-based Kitchen School.

The Kitchen School – offered at both our Newark and Milford sites – is a free 12-week food service training program designed for adults with disabilities. The Kitchen School represents a partnership between the Delaware Restaurant Association and the Food Bank in collaboration with teachers and counselors specializing in work with individuals with disabilities. Students spend  eight weeks at the Food Bank kitchen learning kitchen safety and sanitation and cooking skills; after that, an additional four  weeks is spent transitioning to permanent employment through on-site job coaching.

“I have a disability, but I really wanted to learn ServSafe®,” Janelle said. ServSafe ® is the industry’s benchmark training for food handling and safety standards. She admits that the class exceeded her expectations. “Chef (Shalisa Alexander) taught us so much, and she had patience with us when it was needed,” Janelle said. “Chef knows my interests, that cooking is my passion – from the heart, with love.”

Janelle also encouraged her classmates. Each day of school – for eight weeks – she wrote an affirmation that was posted on the classroom’s wall. “Every day, before started, we had uplifters before we hit the kitchen,” she said.

After completing the Kitchen School, Janelle admits she may have a sweet addition to the meal: homemade peach cobbler. “Chef taught us how to make it from scratch. She taught  us how to make everything from scratch – even teriyaki sauce,” Janelle said.

Her favorite meal to prepare – turkey wings, macaroni and cheese, and collard greens, is described as “my signature meal. I have a motto: Be happy while eating good.”

So, what’s next after the July 13 graduation ceremony? “I would love to continue cooking for the Food Bank, when the new building opens,”  she said. But wait! That’s not all: she enjoys cooking for her family, and volunteering for Code Purple. “I love cooking for the homeless community.”

Janelle shares another goal: “I want to have my very own building to feed the less fortunate. I’m going to call it J’s Westside Kitchen and Catering. I have goals, and I want pursue them all,” Janelle said. “I’m going to go forth and have my own business.”

Kitchen School staff assists students in finding partner employers, and students and employers receive support for at least one year after graduation.

Visit www.fbd.org for more information about this program and offered by the Food Bank of Delaware.

Janelle’s signature dish


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