People’s Emergency Center (PEC), Fresh Start Foods and Drexel University have partnered to bring healthy eating and economic growth to West Philadelphia.

They have formed a new venture called Fresh Start Foods West Philadelphia, which will provide fresh and healthy prepared meals for local schools while offering out-of-work young adults culinary apprenticeship jobs that provide living wages with benefits. The initiative has been boosted by more than $700,000 in federal and state grants, including support from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Healthy Food Financing Initiative as well as the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.

Fresh Start Foods West Philadelphia takes aim at two key problems by increasing access to fresh, affordable food for community residents and offering paid food service apprenticeship opportunities. Through this program, young adults who may have previously had limited access to education and minimal job experience will build meaningful skills, receive professional certifications and have the chance to begin a successful food service career.

“The reason why I wanted to build a partnership is that I believe that we need to solve problems holistically. You can’t tell people to eat healthier unless you can make healthy food available and affordable,” said Jay Guben, founder of The Restaurant School and Freire Charter School, who currently serves as a director at Fresh Start Foods.

“PEC is deeply committed to strengthening neighborhoods and driving change in West Philadelphia, and the Fresh Start Foods model is a truly exceptional way to simultaneously tackle some of the health and employment challenges that plague our community,” said Kira Strong, vice president of community and economic development, PEC.

“By empowering and educating local residents, this program will make a meaningful impact on both the physical and economic health of West Philadelphia.”

Recognizing schools as a pathway for community-wide change, as well as the relationship between proper nutrition and educational outcomes, officials said the food service program will provide nutritious meals based on creative recipes that introduce more fruits, vegetables and alternative sources of protein into popular food items that kids actually want to eat.

Drexel University’s Food Lab in the Department of Culinary Arts and Food Science will contribute its research and development expertise to collaborate with Fresh Start Foods for recipe innovation and taste testing. Once fully operational, Fresh Start Foods West Philadelphia will have the capacity to produce more than 2,000 healthy meals each day to neighborhood school children. Guben said they are currently in discussions with the School District of Philadelphia and operators of area charter schools.

As a part of the initiative, a retail store offering healthy meals to the community will be developed which is scheduled to open in fall 2015 at 3945 Lancaster Ave.

Drexel Culinary Arts and Food Science will manage the professional education of apprentices by providing culinary training, including basic skills, principles of nutrition and meal planning and recipe development. Apprentices will have the opportunity to earn professional certifications including ServSafe food safety manager, food handler, food production manager and National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation customer service credentials.

“Enabling young people to develop these valuable skills and start earning a living wage creates a critical foundation for the pathway to long-term personal and economic success,” said Jonathan Deutsche, professor of culinary arts and food science and director of Drexel’s Center for Hospitality and Sport Management.

“After kick-starting their careers with our training program, there’s no limit to what our apprentices can achieve.”

The first training cohort will begin in March 2015.

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