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New food service program to train people with disabilities

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A new partnership between the Delaware Restaurant Foundation and the Food Bank of Delaware will train people with disabilities for food service roles. | Photo by Conscious Design on Unsplash

A new program aiming to provide workforce skills to people with disabilities is gearing up in the First State, thanks to $500,000 in funding from the Kessler Foundation.

The Delaware Restaurant Foundation, supported by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, will work with the Food Bank of Delaware to create a new program that teaches participants a handful of soft skills, such as communication, plus the food safety and sanitation knowledge needed for ServSafe certification to work in the restaurant industry.

“Our industry sector is still facing an incredible labor shortage,” said Raelynn Grogan, executive director at the Delaware Restaurant Foundation. “The work of the Foundation is to create career opportunities and training initiatives for the communities we serve by dedicating ourselves not only to youth but to communities.”

The program will be a local pilot of the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s Hospitality Pathways project and could help create a model of food service training for people with disabilities, Grogan said. She said it’s essentially an expansion of the national group’s existing “Restaurant Ready” program.

“If we can be a pilot state and show what it looks like for different partners to come together — that this is needed for that population and community — other states can take that shell and implement it nationwide,” she said. “We’re excited to get started.”

The Delaware Restaurant Foundation and Food Bank of Delaware partnership marks one of three groups to pilot the project, which together will recruit a total of 100 participants. The others include the Colorado Restaurant Association partnering with the Skills Academy Vocational Center and the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association working with Peckham Human Services.

“For years our team has included people with disabilities in our training programs and know how valuable their contributions can be as employees,” said Anna McDermott, senior director of workforce and community development at the Food Bank of Delaware. “And when the opportunity to support the work to make the Restaurant Ready curriculum more inclusive came up, we were excited because it aligned so well with the work we are doing.”

Grogan said she hopes the program, which she described as a “pre-apprenticeship,” attracts more than the 30 or so people that the funding would support at this time.

While the Food Bank will provide the training, the Delaware Restaurant Foundation will help connect people with potential employers and track their progress for one year after the program, Grogan said. She said employers have already been surveyed, and that the Foundation has “an astounding list” of employers interested in hiring people who complete the program.

“Jobs in the hospitality sector continue to grow as the economy recovers from the pandemic,” Elaine E. Katz, senior vice president of grants and communications at New Jersey-based Kessler Foundation, said in a statement. “We are hopeful that this project brings a new pool of talent to the attention of employers to consider beyond entry-level positions.”

Grogan said the program will be statewide and that the training will likely take place in person. Specific details about the program are still being finalized, but she said it will be catered to an individual’s needs and pace and will hopefully be launched later this year.

Businesses or individuals interested in getting involved can reach out to the Delaware Restaurant Foundation by calling 302-738-2545 or emailing Grogan at raelynn@delawarerestaurant.org.

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