By Alysse Caldwell
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
“Feeding Minds. Growing Leaders” is the motto of a Baltimore non-profit organization working to bring food, culinary education, and healthcare services to youth in the city’s Southwest sections.
These services come in a multitude of ways.
“So right now, we’re doing after-school programming and feeding the community Monday through Friday dinners,” said Michelle Suazo, executive director of The Food Project, proudly sporting a black cap with the group’s logo. “We’re also building social enterprises out of the kitchen.”
The Food Project currently operates out of the cafeteria at Samuel F.B. Morse Elementary School, 424 South Pulaski St. The organization is the umbrella of seven programs, including “Table Talks” Mentorship to encourage youth to develop healthy relationships, build self-esteem and show compassion and.
Food Project leaders in November shared information about the program at the Baltimore City Council meeting.
“I cannot talk to you about depression,” said LaKeshia Ashely, a licensed Clinical Social Worker and Psychotherapist who works with the group.
Standing behind a microphone, staring intently at the council members, Ashely continued, “I cannot talk to you about anxiety, if your basic needs aren’t being met. Stop eating for 12 hours and then let me know how you will react to your stimuli in the community. So we are dealing with our young men and our young women who are going to school and asked to do basic tasks that they cannot perform.”
Ashely said supporters help the effort through sponsorships. To sponsor a youth for one week is $50; to sponsor a monthly community meal, patrons pay $250; and, to sponsor food production job training is $600, she said.
Once a month, The Food Project’s Culinary Arts Program has a Community Popup Restaurant, where students in the program prepare food and invite family, friends, community members, and the homeless to join in a sit-down meal. The latest Community Popup was Nov. 23.
“Some of these children and some of these parents do not even know what they have or what they are entitled to in order to get themselves on track,” said Ashely. “We are just trying to build healthy families, and part of that is building healthy individuals to have healthy communities.”