Grantor: Medina Foundation, Seattle
Grantee: FareStart, Seattle
Amount: $65,000 since 1994
In 1994, a Seattle nonprofit called FareStart was in dire financial straits. The organization had two missions—feeding the hungry and providing job training for the homeless, but bills were going unpaid and the organization nearly had to shut down. What a difference a few years makes. Today, FareStart provides 2,000 meals a day to children, the elderly, and the homeless. More remarkable is the fact that feeding the hungry has actually become secondary to FareStart’s main mission: teaching self-sufficiency to the homeless and disadvantaged by providing job training in the food service industry.
Far from being a budgetary strain, the program’s new emphasis on work is actually the very thing that has made it financially viable. Instead of simply providing food for those in need, FareStart employs the needy and sells their services. The organization does catering and runs a restaurant and cafe, staffing all of these operations with the homeless and down-and-out. Sixty percent of the program’s operating budget comes right out of the cash register.
Integral to a job training program in the food services industry, of course, is a high-quality kitchen that replicates an actual workplace. Small problem: “Our kitchen was almost unworkable,” recalls executive director Cheryl Sesnon. In the center of the kitchen reaching nearly to the ceiling were two huge black pizza ovens that were totally inappropriate for a regular commercial kitchen. To compound the problem, only one oven worked.
Enter the Seattle-based Medina Foundation, a family philanthropy with roots in a local timber and real estate fortune. Impressed with the results of an earlier grant, Medina’s trustees approved funding to replace FareStart’s antiquated electric kitchen with gas double-stacked convection ovens more appropriate for the clients’ work.
The grant has made a huge difference to the program and has enabled FareStart to land new contracts and earn more money for its programs. Medina also underwrote FareStart’s expansion into a cafe at nearby Antioch College.
According to the Medina Foundation’s executive director, Gregory P. Barlow, FareStart has a “well thought-out program that was addressing multiple needs in the community: employment training for the homeless and food for the shelters.” Medina’s investment in FareStart has been worthwhile; the program’s success rates are phenomenal. Of those who graduate from the program, 90 percent are employed at graduation; 83 percent have a job 90 days after graduation; and 70 percent are working one year from graduation.
Then there is Guest Chef Night. Every Thursday, a chef from a trendy local restaurant (and remember, this is Seattle) comes to FareStart and helps the students prepare a gourmet meal. The chef donates his time and, often, the food. Volunteer groups wait tables and donate their tips back to the students. The students get to work with famous chefs, and customers “get an excellent meal at a nominal price,” according to Barlow. Best of all, many of the chefs look at the students as potential employees.
From the day-to-day programs that FareStart offers and the special events such as Guest Chef Night, the students learn the technical skills that enable them to hold down jobs. Yet these programs and events offer the students much more than technical skills. According to Sesnon, as a student is “producing and contributing and working as a team member,” he quickly improves his sense of self-worth. The graduates “really earn their certificates,” says Sesnon; there are no handouts or entitlements.