Opportunity Kitchen cooks up skill and meals for needy during pandemic

RICHLAND, Wash. – Beneath the Federal Building in downtown Richland, is a window of opportunity for those interested in culinary arts.

“How much I love cooking? I would say 100 percent. Raises my heart up; it goes wild, in a good way,” Alexander Peterson said.

Peterson is one of the many graduates from Columbia Industries‘ Opportunity Kitchen.

A 12-week food service training program for people 18 and over, who may be facing employment barriers such as intellectual disabilities.

“Whether it’s incarceration, a single mom, surviving domestic violence – all of them and even more we just encourage them to apply,” Jessica Sagdal said.

Sagdal teaches the life skills portion of the program.

“We teach them things like interviewing skills, resume building, or how to move forward past their past. To eliminate that voice inside their head that’s telling them they can’t do it,” she said.

Then, students move onto the kitchen with Executive Training Chef Derek Smith.

“Helping them understand how the kitchen flows what the expectations are day to day with what we’re trying to produce,” he explained what they learn.

“Chef Derek is amazing, an amazing chef, and his crew,” Alexander added.

During the pandemic, the benefit from Opportunity Kitchen was two fold.

READ MORE: Kennewick organization empowers people throughout the pandemic

Students put their cooking skills to the test by whipping up free meals for those in need throughout the Tri-Cities.

“Kind of feel happy; like the people need food,” Alexander said.

“Just making certain that good, hot meals were provided to the community has been an essential part of what we do,” Chef Smith added.

Staff said many of the students either continue to work with Opportunity Kitchen, or are hired by local restaurants.

Regardless, they’re prepared to begin a new chapter in life, thanks to the instruction at Opportunity Kitchen.

“It is for them and maybe they have a few more things that they have to overcome on a daily basis, but that doesn’t eliminate them from having a successful life,” Sagdal said.

They just started a new 12-week program on Monday, but they will continue to offer classes once the current one graduates. Stay updated by checking their Facebook.