Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Thursday

November 21, 2013

Catering For A Cause

TRAVERSE CITY — Shannon Woods bounced from jail to a rehabilitation facility to the Goodwill Inn kitchen.

“I love cooking,” said Woods, a recovering drug addict who is training with MI Fresh Start Catering Services for a career in the food service industry. “That’s how I express my love: making people happy, chubby.”

The fast-growing catering services are a food program of Goodwill Industries of Northern Michigan. The program, which caters everything from birthday parties to board meetings, launched last year with about $500 in monthly business and now boasts between $5,000 and $8,000 in monthly business, said Brandon Seng, director of food programs.

More important, it provides on-the-job training for people like Woods, whose struggle with drugs made it difficult at times to hold down a job.

“It’s not just catering,” said Seng, who founded and directed the Manistee Community Kitchen before joining Goodwill in February. “It’s more training individuals who are living with disabilities and disadvantages and who have been out of the work force for five to 10 years.”

Woods and two others she lives with at an Addiction Treatment Services transition house recently began five weeks of food service training that will take them through the busy holiday catering season. They’ll follow training with three months of paid internship.

“We’re all eager to live a better way of life,” said Woods, 43, who hopes to parlay her training into a career in restaurant management.

The catering services are run with the help of Goodwill head chef Tom Harrington; sous chef Kerry Fulcher, a graduate of Northwestern Michigan College’s Great Lakes Culinary Institute; and food program coordinator Tammy Donnelly. Seng said the program plans to hire a pastry chef by the end of the week — just in time for the holiday season.

So far its “niche” is catering to other nonprofits like the City Opera House and TART Trails, said Donnelly. But officials hope to extend the program’s reach to more individuals and businesses.

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