TAMPA, Fla. — Feeding Tampa Bay is holding their fourth FRESHforce cohort this month. The goal is to get people skills and training to land a job.
The program started before the pandemic, but its timing couldn't have been better to help people in need.
"So we train in the three different areas; the first is culinary arts. We have Trinity Cafe here where we are cooking a chef-prepared three-course meal every day," Matt Spence, Chief Programs Officer for Feeding Tampa Bay, said. "We also have warehouse and logistics and commercial truck driving. So, with our 40 truck fleet, we know what we are doing in that arena as well."
Spence said the program is designed so people can get the training they need and find jobs outside of the non-profit. In the very first class, Spence said none of the graduates stayed to work at Feeding Tampa Bay. With the pandemic and lack of jobs, that is changing.
"With the increased work that we've seen through the pandemic, we've had an increased need for skilled labor as well," Spence said. "So, we've had an opportunity to keep on a lot of the folks that came through our training in the last two cohorts."
Feeding Tampa Bay also works with community leaders to find out what they need in a potential employee.
"What really need is someone who will be a good teammate, someone who will show up on time, someone who doesn't get into arguments (or) in fights with their bosses (and) knows how to be a good employee," Spence said.
ABC Action News reporter Michael Paluska talked to Sarah Madden. Madden graduated from the second cohort.
"I am a child hunger associate," Madden said. "I'm no longer in the warehouse like I was. But, I go back and forth from time to time."
Madden wears a lot of different hats. And when they are short-staffed, she jumps into action.
"Last week, I delivered meals cause we didn't have anybody to drive the meals to the kids. So, I drove a truck to deliver the meals to Palmetto and DeSoto and a few other places in Tampa. Jack of all trades," Madden said with a proud laugh.
Madden finally found a job she loves going to every day.
"We train here, and we learn everything here," Madden said. "I wanted to stay here for as long as possible."
Spence said the demand for food in the Tampa Bay area has tripled since the pandemic started. In January, they were serving 650,000 people; that number is now close to 2-million.
"To end hunger in Tampa Bay by 2025, we need to get people out of the food line," Spence said. "We need to make sure not only people know where to go to get a meal in an emergency but also how to build skills so they can become self-sufficient and they can turn around and volunteer with us they can be a donor help us supporting those in that moment of need."
Spence said all candidates who come through the FRESHforce Program would receive a "stipend" during training, grow in employability skills, customer service, interviewing, and resume writing, all while earning industry-standard certifications to enhance job prospects.
Correction: Applications for the upcoming FRESHforce cohort close on Sept. 25. In the video report we incorrectly reported the wrong deadline.