The Food Project Providing Jobs For Youth In Baltimore

Former Baltimore City Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector knows Baltimore's juvenile crime problem all too well. Days before she left office in 2016, she was carjacked by a pair of teens. But then she became an advocate for her assailants, and now she's helping in an effort to lift up teens in the city's poorest neighborhoods.

"I have had the opportunity to work with the same kids that I was the victim of and now I can't love them more than my own children," Spector told Brett Hollander on Monday.

She's working with Michelle Suazo, executive director of The Food Project. It aims to provide underserved youth with cooking, nutrition, restaurant skills, urban farming experience and mentorship. They're laser-focused, Suazo said, on 21223, Maryland's poorest zip code, and an area of southwest Baltimore including Carrollton Ridge, Franklin Square and Penrose.

Students in the program learn the tools of the restaurant, get snacks on the shelves of Whole Foods and, most importantly, take home a paycheck. That's thanks to grant funding.

"I had five boys I had to turn away," Suazo said. "I would love to have support so that we could hire more youth in the community."

In the zip code, 42.3 percent of children live in poverty, and two-thirds don't live in a two-parent household. Some are even on the streets.

"I'm not sure about cause and effect, but what I am convinced of, quite frankly, Brett, is it's 40, 50 years of bad public policy. Babies having babies. We have kids that cannot go to school because they have not been vaccinated," Spector said. "There's no one to parent them or to guardian them or to guide them, and they come to use because they now have heard that we're a refuge or a sanctuary."

SW Baltimore Youth Assist Chef Kaimana in Serving the Mayor 5 Course Meal

Chef Demo Thank You.jpg

Wednesday 7/11/18 - Baltimore, MD.. U Empower of Maryland’s “The Food Project” hosted a fundraiser featuring celebrity chef Kaimana Chee for a “Sharing & Wine Pairing” event at City Seeds Demo Kitchen located at 1412 North Wolfe St. in East Baltimore. The event raised money to sustain its programs for low-income youth in Southwest Baltimore. The Food Project Youth assisted the Chef in preparing a 5-course meal for the guests and Mayor of Baltimore.

Chef Chee, an O’ahu native, is an alumnus of many television programs including Fox’s MasterChef, as a contestant; and Bravo’s Newlyweds, as a guest Chef. He has won the Smithsonian’s Iron Chef Competition and Food Network’s Cutthroat Kitchen. Chef Chee is the Head Chef and Owner of Uncle’s Hawaiian Grindz in Fallston, MD.

Southwest Baltimore, where The Food Project is located, has a family poverty rate of 45.9% and a youth poverty rate is 42.3%. The Food Project’s mission is to enhance the lives of the children and families in Carrollton Ridge, one of Baltimore’s most impoverished communities, where over one third of the zip code is in a food desert. “Here at The Food Project we have found that local youths share the desire to contribute positively to their community. As many as 30 of our youth have voluntarily painted and cleaned our facility,” founder Michelle Suazo said.

The Food Project, founded in 2015, is a non-profit organization located in Southwest Baltimore in the former Samuel F. B. Morse Elementary School. It provides multiple culinary, health, and self-sustaining skills to youth in the neighborhood. The organization offers a variety of opportunities including cooking demonstrations with celebrity chefs, restaurant concept development, urban farming, healthy literacy, and mentoring.

For more information:
Michelle Suazo (443) 690-1694

A Beacon of Hope

A Beacon of Hope

“If you go into this neighborhood, you can see the buildings are crumbling. There are no resources for children,” Suazo said. “They have no voice. They were left to be forgotten when the [attack on Spector] happened. …We were so horrified by the situation but we wanted to see if there was a way to work together to come up with a solution.”

Flipping The Script

Flipping The Script

Spector was attending the event to update the community on what she’s been up to for the past year since two young teens jumped her in a parking garage and tried to steal her car. The attempt was foiled because Spector had the electronic fob needed to open the exit gate. Battered and shaken, her eyes blackened, Spector yelled for help, and two employees came quickly to her aid, catching one of the fleeing teens, a 15-year-old, in the process. The second teen, 13, was arrested two days later.