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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — A charity that focuses on food rescue and job training is now running the small café inside The Salvation Army’s Kroc Center, as well as catering special events at the Kroc.

As soon as Cultivate Culinary School and Catering moved in last week, customers began to see fresher items from breakfast pizza to sandwiches. They’ve tried smoothies made with excess fruit from the local Fresh Thyme Farmers Market — good food rescued from waste.

By mid-June, diners will see fresh faces, too. High school students will spend the summer learning the food business, from prepping food in the kitchen to serving it.

Officials at both charities say their missions line up.

“Our focus is on at-risk youth at the Kroc,” said Jim Conklin, Cultivate’s co-founder and president. “When you get that connection, it makes a lot of sense for both of us.”

Cultivate is now interviewing six high school students for the job that would pay $9 per hour, he said, but it would like up to 12. It is seeking students from the national Jobs for America’s Graduates program, which helps students who face barriers to graduation.

Locally, JAG classes are found at Adams, Clay, Riley, Washington and Mishawaka high schools and at the Career and Rise Up academies. JAG, which is overseen by the Northern Indiana Workforce Board and taught by Goodwill Industries, would provide some funding for its students. Krystal Levi, with the Workforce Board, said she likes how students also will learn about sustainability and “paying it forward” from Cultivate’s food rescue.

But Conklin said Cultivate will consider other students, too. They need to be 16 to 24 years old and have an interest in the culinary arts.

“Our goal is to help them find employment in the community,” he said. “We work with food suppliers that are in desperate need of workers.”

By the time they reach an employer, Conklin said, the students will have already tested themselves in the heat of a kitchen, so they’ll be less likely to quit and waste an employer’s time after a couple of weeks.

“We’re not training people to be chefs,” he said. “We just want to get them started down that path.”

Cultivate once ran a culinary program at The Crossing alternative school, but that ended as Cultivate concentrated on its food rescue efforts. Cultivate also works with adults at Goodwill Industries in a similar training program, with six to eight students every couple of months who feed the Goodwill cafeteria, Conklin said.

Most of the food is purchased at both places, but when restrictions allow, Conklin said it will tap into food that Cultivate rescues — donated by local businesses that cannot use or prepare it in time. It’s often a never-touched product that’s still sealed in a box.

Cultivate is continuing the growth spurt in its food rescue that The Tribune had reported on in December. At that time, it was already gleaning excess food from the suites at Notre Dame football games, along with the Century Center, Rise’n Roll Bakery and Nelson’s Catering & Fundraising. It has since added food from the Notre Dame football training program and St. Hedwig Parish’s events, and it may soon start receiving food from the Four Winds Casinos, said Randy Ziolkowski, Cultivate’s co-founder and general manager.

He estimates saving almost 80,000 pounds of food since July and possibly an additional 100,000 pounds this summer. Much of the food is repackaged into 1,500 to 3,000 complete meals that go each week to local charities. That work is done out of a former Madison Center building, but Ziolkowski said he’s running out of room.

At the Kroc Center, a staff of five Cultivate employees is running the café and catering, led by sous chef Susie Kirkpatrick. The café is open to the general public, though it has served mostly staff, members and visitors.

“I’m trying a little bit of everything,” said Laura Magallon, who stepped over from her job at the welcome desk to buy a small cup of cheese. She’s noticed “a lot of variety,” including sandwiches, wraps, pizzas, salads, hummus, fruit, cookies and homemade tortilla chips.

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Source: South Bend Tribune, https://bit.ly/2Ls9D7D

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Information from: South Bend Tribune, http://www.southbendtribune.com