Even before Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans communities, Orleans Parish residents were troubled with high poverty, low academic achievement and many of the resulting social challenges, including poor physical and mental health, high violence and crime. When the levees broke, these communities’ challenges were multiplied and laid bare for the world to see. Financial resources and legions of volunteers arrived to address short-term, urgent needs of citizens, particularly those whose existence was precarious before the storm. Yet, long-term solutions were in short supply.
The W.K. Kellogg Foundation was among many philanthropic organizations that rushed in to support devastated residents in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. When the nation turned its attention away from the city’s ongoing rebuilding efforts, WKKF’s leadership committed to a long-term partnership with community leaders to address the systemic barriers to socioeconomic progress in the city’s poorest communities. New Orleans was a logical choice as one of the foundation’s priority places. There was much work to be done and great potential to make lasting impact for children.
Liberty’s Kitchen became one of the foundation’s important organizational partners, poised to address a number of community challenges. A non-profit social enterprise, Liberty’s Kitchen helps young adults build job skills and financial independence, while also contributing to the healthy food movement gaining momentum in New Orleans. Young adults who have been under-educated, underemployed, and otherwise disengaged are offered a second chance to learn culinary and hospitality skills through hands-on training in the organization’s café and coffee house, catering business and its school food service contracting. They also gain critical life skills that equip them to use their new career skills to establish financial stability for themselves and their families.
In addition to engaging vulnerable young adults in life-affirming work and driving much-needed economic development in high-need communities, Liberty’s Kitchen is also an important contributor to New Orleans’ growing healthy food movement. Liberty’s Kitchen students learn to incorporate locally-sourced, fresh ingredients in the foods they serve their customers, a significant percentage of whom are students attending New Orleans public schools. Because a majority of those students eat at least two of their daily meals at school and childhood obesity rates in the city are alarming, Liberty’s Kitchen’s role in improving nutrition and health outcomes for children holds great potential. The organization’s leaders, many of whom are natives to the city or region, began with affection and respect for New Orleans’ world-renowned and deeply-rooted food traditions. With training in healthier cooking techniques and access to fresh, regional ingredients, student workers are able to please customer palates while also adopting healthier eating habits of their own. One additional benefit is that Liberty’s Kitchen students, who have previously been underachievers in their communities, say they get great fulfillment nourishing and personally serving children of their communities and imagining the positive impact their service might have on their educational achievement.
The Kellogg Foundation’s program team members speak effusively about Liberty’s Kitchen’s impact in New Orleans, with particular excitement that the work touches the foundation’s core program priorities - healthy kids, educated kids and secure families - and does so in one of the foundation’s priority places. The partnership is one of many in New Orleans that, as part of a cohesive strategic approach, has great potential to make major progress towards a new future for New Orleans underserved communities.
To find out more about opportunities to support or engage with Liberty’s Kitchen, visit www.libertyskitchen.org.