Many of my friends are amazing chefs: Tom. Ann. Angie. Bev. Eric and Allison. My sister, Charlene. (There are likely more of you, but since you haven’t invited me to your homes for dinner parties, chili-fests, etc. I am unable to acknowledge your culinary skills here. Just saying…)

I am not a great cook. I frequently request recipes from my friends. Then I shamelessly serve them their own dishes when I host something at my home. It’s never as good when I prepare it, which is why I also love going out to eat. No matter that I’m lugging four kids into a restaurant with me—you can’t let a gaggle of goslings slow you down!

Eating out was interesting when the kids were infants and toddlers. Ryan was maybe 3 years of age when his “o”s sounded like “u”s, and other letters were missing entirely from his diction. Fork, therefore, sounded much like f—k.

The waiter would seat us. Ryan would bang his utensils on the table for a moment and then drop his fork on the ground. “I need a f—k,” he’d yell. “I need a f—k right now!” Fellow diners would turn to stare.

I’d respond, equally loudly, “Of course you need a FORK, Ryan. I’ll get you another FORK in just a moment.”

Table manners do eventually set in. These days, Paige is quick to remind her siblings that napkins are folded in half on your lap at lunch and fully open at dinner. Paige also rates restaurants by the number of forks and spoons at her place setting. (Under this system, the Old Spaghetti Factory is a “nice” restaurant because tables are set with two forks.)

There’s a lot to learn about restaurants. Last night, FareStart was kind enough to allow the kids and me to take a behind-the-scenes tour of the facilities as part of our weekly Every Monday Matters adventures. FareStart isn’t just another swank eatery in downtown Seattle. It’s an innovative, 16-week job training and placement program for homeless and disadvantaged people.

FareStart students are at least 30 days through any type of addiction recovery program (alcoholics anonymous, etc.) and a recipient of food stamps among other criteria. Upon admittance to FareStart, the organization provides them with a comprehensive array of services from housing assistance to counseling as well as culinary training.

We watched a group of students turn out perfectly Julienne carrots. And we toured the kitchens where FareStart students practice their skills by preparing restaurant lunches for diners as well as 2,500 meals a day that are then distributed to area homeless shelters. These are formerly homeless people learning job skills even as they are feeding other homeless people. It’s an incredible concept.

The Emerald City gets it, and the program is engaging the community to be part of the solution to reduce homelessness.

Every Thursday evening, guest chefs from some of Seattle’s top restaurants (Palisade, Chez Shea, Purple) volunteer their time to work with students to prepare a three-course meal for guests. Community volunteers serve the guests so that 100 percent of the proceeds from Guest Chef Night go toward covering the expenses of the Fare Start program. It’s typically a sold-out event in Seattle.

My little ones were fascinated by the “gi-normous “ pots and pans and ovens in the kitchens. Megan was asking questions about other cities that have adopted this program. So far, more than 20 cities from Portland to Detroit, Boise and beyond have replicated FareStart’s model through its sister organization, Kitchens with Mission.

There are no easy solutions or quick fixes to homelessness. There are 8,000 homeless men, women and children in Washington’s King County alone. The obstacles from mental illnesses to lack of education and employment skills are significant. FareStart admits 300 students a year and graduates roughly one-third of them. Some find employment even before they graduate from the program, so their numbers don’t get counted in success scores. Others just wash out through a myriad of problems from relapses to addictions to personal issues. The good news is that 89 percent or more of those who do graduate are employed within 90 days of completing the program.

There’s a lot of talk these days about government subsidies and rescue plans and bailouts. It’s a bit too much for me to wrap my mind around. What I do know is this: If we are going to fork over assistance to people who are trying to model the hand-up over the hand-out approach, FareStart is a three-fork program.


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