O-Town Kitchen, Employing Homeless Parents

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Utah is one of the top states for volunteerism and Ogden is no exception. The wonderful thing about our little town is the willingness of people to help each other in times of hardship. Every day I am so inspired by what my community is doing and recently I head about one local who is going above and beyond.  Issac Farley knows what it’s like to fall on hard times and he is using that knowledge to help lift other up by teaching homeless families valuable workplace skills and bringing the community together.

I asked him a few questions about this special project and I hope you all will take some time to check out the O-Town Kitchen IndieGoGo and help them raise the funds they need to keep this project going.

What inspired you to start O-town Kitchen?
This whole thing started out as a mission from the Lord. When I was 16 I went through a crazy Damascus road experience that converted me into a born again Christian. That same year I learned my calling in life was to be what I’ve always called the Jesus of Suburbia; that it’s my mission to represent Jesus to people in the community by living like he did and meeting the needs of people around me. My mission and all I’ve ever wanted to do is help people in Ogden City.

Growing up my family went through a number of tough economic challenges and we were homeless on more than one occasion. Right now a lot of what I do is geared towards families who are suffering under a lot of the same afflictions that we did. In all honesty I understand how a lot of these parents and kids are feeling and my family has always made it through those tough times by clinging onto each other and getting help from others. Now that I’ve got the chance to be one the other end of that interaction, to be the one helping instead of getting helped I want to do everything I can to make a difference in people’s lives

How did you get started?
I first started working in the area of homelessness by helping out in my church’s soup kitchen back in 2012. That summer around a campfire with a group of friends one friend made the observation that every week we kept seeing the same faces come through the line of our soup kitchen. We asked ourselves if there was anything we could do to help people so they won’t need a soup kitchen. We didn’t come up with an answer at that time but I kept the question in the back of my mind.

Next in the summer of 2014 when I got to be a part of the IMPACT! Design for Social Change seminar at the School of Visual Arts in NYC. IMPACT! is an intensive graduate level course that teaches people in creative fields how to apply their skills to working in non-profit and humanitarian causes. While I was there I came back to that question of “what else can a soup kitchen do to help?”. One day while on the subway talking to a friend about my goals, the light bulb flipped on about giving jobs to our patrons! From this little spark the amazing professors of the program helped me develop my plans to turn a soup kitchen into a business.

When I got back to Ogden I joined Weber State’s Entrepreneurship minor and told an anyone who would listen about this idea. Working with my a good friend of mine we started to do a lot of networking and from there all the pieces kind of fell into place and the idea is under way!

What are the homelessness rates in Ogden?
I don’t have the specific homeless rates for Ogden but I can tell you that 86% of the estimated 13,621 homeless persons in Utah live along the Wasatch front. Ogden has 5 homeless shelters (by my count) and even with our high number of shelters there are still people who sleep without outside every night because the shelters fill up.

What really shocked me and people don’t seem to know about is the growing number of homeless families in Utah. The 2014 Utah Comprehensive Report on Homelessness shows that right now 46% of the homeless population in our state is families. Families make up the fastest growing segment of the homeless population here and about 77% of these homeless families are headed by single mothers who are leaving abusive relationships. It probably won’t shock you to hear that nationwide the #1 cause of families experiencing homelessness is unemployed parents.

When I think about these moms and kids out there without a roof over their head I think about my own family – a lot of moms can cook. My mom is actually a cook and has worked in food service for most of her life. When she lost her job it took her almost a year of actively looking for work before she was hired by a catering service. I think what we’re doing with O-Town Kitchen is such a great way of helping bridge the gap between unemployed emergency situations and folks getting back on their feet. Assisting families is the most exciting part to me and this is why we are so happy to be working with Your Community Connection Family Crisis Center.

What kinds of skills are participants learning?
We are a nonprofit but we are running our program like a regular business so there are a lot of areas involved in what we’re doing. We are helping our participants get their food handler’s permits and we’re teaching them how to work and cook in a commercial kitchen. We are going to be exposing our participants to a lot of the design side of things like packaging and advertising. We are hoping that we can help them develop great interpersonal skills from being involved in selling our products. These are all things that can help the people we’re working with transition from our part-time, short term employment program into full time positions.

Where do your food donations come from?
We are seeking out grocery stores and restaurants for our donations. In the United States every year around 161.6 Billion dollars of edible food isn’t able to be used and goes to waste. Around 30 – 40% of that lost value happens in retail locations. Being in the grocery business is tough because for one reason or another about 90% of their profits end up not getting sold.

At O-Town Kitchen we are trying to create value for everyone involved with us.Under the Bill Emerson Food Donation Act business that donate food items to a non-profit are able to count 50% of the retail value of their donation on their taxes. The Food Donation Act also protects food donor from any liability involved with their donation. If there are any grocery store or restaurants owners reading this I’d love to talk with you. You can reach me through our website http://otownkitchen.org

Also I want to make sure I let you know that we are taking quality control very seriously. Our donations are going to be closely inspected before use and we are working with the Utah Department of Food and Agriculture to make sure everything about our sources and process meets their standards and regulations.

How can the community get involved?
Well we need public support in a few different ways. Right now we are involved in an IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign to raise some startup money. This money we’re raising will be used to buy the equipment for canning and pay for some of our operating costs as well as to start paying the folks we are employing until we start selling. Even if you can only contribute 5 or 10 dollars everything we get will go a long way towards supporting our mission. Here’s the donation link https://life.indiegogo.com/fundraisers/o-town-kitchen–2

We are also collecting cooking supplies and ingredients. If you have anything extra you’d like to contribute to our cause you can find a list of our needs on our website: http://otownkitchen.org/support

Most of all we just need help getting the word out about what we’re doing, sharing the links and connecting us to anyone who can help us would also be a really great way to help us out.

Mikaela is a transplant from Portland, fell in love with Ogden her first day in town and created Indie Ogden the next week. She enjoys outdoor adventures with her 2 kiddos and making a mess crafting. You can find her at a local cafe or cycling around town with her family.
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