For more than 100 years, the Clara White Mission in downtown Jacksonville has helped the hungry and the homeless, earning a reputation for transitional programs that enable people to become self-sufficient again. About six years ago, the mission created a School of Culinary Arts, a three-month program that teaches all aspects of food service. Students can live in transitional housing for up to two years. Most don’t have to stay that long. The program has graduated more than 200 students, about 65% of whom remain fully employed in well-paying jobs in the food industry.
But this winter, the culinary school saved more than some souls. Between changes in HUD rules and government budget constraints, the Clara White Mission lost $260,000 in local, state and federal funding. Mission CEO and President Ju’Coby Pittman-Peele had to lay off staffers and slash the mission’s daily feeding program to three days a week. “But if it wasn’t for the culinary program,” she says, “our doors would have closed.”
Diversifying from a purely essential-services program to an educational program gave the mission access to grants not previously available. Meanwhile, the culinary program itself generated revenue with its catering business and a restaurant it runs on Fridays called Clara’s at the Cathedral.
Now, Pittman-Peele is working with grant providers, including Blue Cross-Blue Shield’s Blue Foundation and the Jessie Ball DuPont Fund, to ensure the mission can keep up its tradition of feeding the hungry seven days a week and maintain the culinary program. She has been asked to make presentations about the program across the state. The Department of Corrections is studying its applications for training inmates to re-enter society. “We’re the poster child for out-of-the-box initiatives,” she says. “But we still do a lot of hand-holding — that helps lead to our success, too.”