(Wichita)—Breakfast, lunch and jobs are on the menu at the newly opened Green Leaf Café on the seventh floor of Finney State Office Building.
The café, which celebrated its grand opening Wednesday, trains recipients of the Department for Children and Families’ cash assistance program in restaurant skills. Working at the Green Leaf provides work experience and a reference to put on job applications, as well as a food handler’s card.
“The cafe is an example of innovation and creative thinking applied to tough problems such as lack of experience that our clients encounter when they look for work,” said DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore. “The practice our clients receive working at the café equips them to launch into jobs elsewhere with the skills and training that make them a valuable asset to their employer.”
The idea for the café came from DCF Wichita Regional Director Diane Bidwell. She saw a need for more job opportunities for recipients of Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF), a federal program that gives cash assistance to families with children while also helping them attain employment. A former cafeteria in the state office building where the DCF office is located sparked the idea for the food training in a café setting. Since the soft launch opening on August 20, the café has served about 120 people per day.
“It’s a win-win-win. Our clients get the training they need to support their families, an old cafeteria gets used and now our employees have healthy options for lunch,” Bidwell said. “Plus, everyone loves that the food is delicious at very reasonable prices.”
The café has a full sandwich menu, plus weekly features like a pasta bar where cooks create custom dishes based on the ingredients chosen by the customer.
Three trainees have already graduated from the eight-week program. One graduate has already found a job and the other two are currently searching for jobs. Their experience involves food preparation and cooking, customer service and cash management; skills that enable them to work as wait staff, kitchen help or at a nursing home, school kitchen, salad bar, deli or grocery store. Every graduate of the program already has their food handler’s card that is required to work in a restaurant kitchen.
“The food handler’s card is something an employer would have to pay their new hire to complete as a part of training,” Bidwell said. “Our Green Leaf graduates have the experience and the necessary certifications to work in a kitchen right away.”
The graduates are enthusiastic and hopeful about their future and the ability to support themselves. One trainee enjoyed working at the Green Leaf so much that she asked to extend her training.
“We can see confidence and growth building in them,” Bidwell said. “They function as a team and they’re excited to be there.”
Green Leaf graduates receive help from Episcopal Social Services to create a resume and put the chef’s name and direct number on applications as a reference.
The next group of Green Leaf trainees is scheduled to graduate on October 26.