FareStart Serves up Fresh Food and Fresh Starts

FareStart Cover Story Blog

For many, food brings together family and friends. To students at FareStart, food brings the beginning of a lifelong transformation.

A 501(c)(3) charity since 1992, FareStart provides job training in the food service industry to homeless and disadvantaged individuals in Seattle. CEO Megan Karch explains that FareStart “is less about teaching people to cook but more about using food as a tool to help people change their lives. It’s not about creating chefs as much as it is about recreating lives and communities.”

Two core programs support FareStart’s mission, serving approximately 350 people annually – or about 70-80 students each day.

Many students come to FareStart without employable skills, unstable housing, battling addictions and even criminal histories. What unites them is a desire to change and a willingness to learn.

The Adult Culinary Program provides a 16-week comprehensive training program combining hands-on food service training and classroom instruction with individual case management and job placement services. During the program and post-graduation, students have access to support teams that assist with housing, basic needs and life skills training. Within 90 days of graduation (and often much sooner), 93% of graduates secured employment and six months later, about 80% were still employed.

In a similar fashion, the intensive eight-week Youth Barista Training & Education Program provides job training/placement, life skills, employment counseling, classroom and on-the-job training to homeless youth between ages 16-24. Of last year’s youth graduates, 92% have gained employment or continued their education.

For hands-on experience, participants work in FareStart’s social enterprise businesses – FareStart Restaurant, FareStart Catering, and FareStart Café @2100 – which generate a significant portion of the organization’s operating revenue. Each Thursday, the restaurant opens for Guest Chef Night, giving students the opportunity to learn from premier local chefs and offering the public a chance to experience a three-course gourmet meal for $29.95 during student graduations. Often times, students are offered employment from the chefs they work with during Guest Chef Nights.

Try to fight the tears when you hear students and graduates speak of the immense impact that FareStart has had on their lives in the organization’s recent gala video. Travis (current student) shared, “Basically, I got down to two bags… homeless, and I kept hearing the name FareStart. So I came in on a Tuesday and by Wednesday, I had a place to stay, food in my belly and was learning a new career.” Paul, a graduate of the program, said that “My world basically fell apart. Life changes happened but I resorted to drugs and alcohol to try to overcome those feelings and felt diminished, useless, spent… FareStart was a hand up. They grabbed hold of me and helped me until I could stand. Because of that, I now can help other people.”

In addition to meals in their restaurants, FareStart also prepares about 750,000 nutritious meals for low-income daycares, homeless shelters and local schools.

If you’re not already inspired, there’s more to FareStart’s story. Megan says “we started Catalyst Kitchens because we were getting calls from around the country about how to set up this model in their region. We did it to incubate and launch new programs and to set up a network so we can help other organizations scale their impact.” This 65-member international network trains an impressive 3,000+ students and serves approximately 11 million meals annually.

FareStart is one of many local BBB Accredited Charities that meets our comprehensive 20 Standards for Charity Accountability – meaning you can trust that your donation will be used wisely. View their BBB Charity Review here. BBB also provides great giving tips to help donors give wisely.

FareStart was featured as the cover story for our December Torch Talk. Check it out here and subscribe to future Torch Talks by clicking on the light blue “Subscribe” button on the left side of the page.