Finding a Fresh Start

Photography by Libby Williams

By Helen Mitternight 

It starts with the premise that nothing should go to waste – not food  and certainly not people. 

That’s the philosophy behind One80 Place, the shelter whose very name symbolizes starting over. It’s dedicated to ending homelessness. One of the programs designed to providing residents with job skills is the culinary training program, directed by Angie DuPree. It puts qualified residents through a four-week culinary “boot camp” followed by a one-week “externship” and then tries to find them appropriate jobs that will help them move from the ranks of the homeless.

The shelter offers beds to 80 men, 40 individual dorms for veterans and 40 beds for women and children in a separate building. But those 160 are a fraction of what Angie says are the 500 or so homeless on the streets of Charleston every night.

Most stay an average of 42 days but Angie says if someone is in a program and working toward a goal but just doesn’t quite have enough money for housing, “we’re not going to kick them out.”

The shelter’s culinary training program seemed the perfect position for Angie, who has been in the food and beverage industry since she was a teenager and had her own restaurant, Savory Market, on James Island. She’d been interested in nonprofits for a while and started as volunteer coordinator for a small shelter for women and children in Summerville before coming to One80 Place. 

“You say to yourself, ‘I want to change the world,’ and then you find yourself working in an organization and that’s exactly what they’re doing,” she says. 

For four weeks, qualified residents or veterans from the community work in the shelter’s kitchen and learn food safety, knife skills and kitchen communication skills such as using the shorthand “Hot!” or “Sharp!” for warning others about hot pots or knives. Everyone receives their ServSafe certification in food handler safety and sanitation. In addition, Angie says, some cooking basics are sprinkled in, such as how to make homemade pasta or mayonnaise. 

“We’re no Cordon Bleu here, but if we can get them to cut four quarts of carrots in under an hour, to know what mire poix’ or ‘mise en place’ is, we can get them that position of prep rather than dishwasher,” she says. 

Local chefs come in a few times a week to offer lessons. Angie says Kelly Franz of Magnolias is a frequent knife skills instructor, former food educator Susan Wigley teaches egg cookery, and others join as they can. 

Graduation comes with a fun competition and a kit that includes clothing and knives for their new careers, as well as a one-time stipend to put toward housing until the paychecks start to arrive. 

For Charleston restaurants, desperate for good help, the program is a boon. Angie says about 25 to 30 partner restaurants have signed on, including Magnolias, Hanks, Home Team BBQ, Taco Boy, Whole Foods, MUSC and the restaurants of the Holy City Hospitality group. 

“We focus on downtown because a lot of times, transportation is an issue,” Angie explains, adding that she also looks at competitive starting wages, benefit packages and balanced work-life environments. 

She says the program has a 95 percent placement rate and has graduated more than 115 people. 

The trainees get lots of practice from another service offered by One80 – the Zucker Community Kitchen, which serves about 500 meals a day. Residents eat at breakfast and dinner, and lunch is thrown open to anyone who wants to come, resident or not, usually about 200 to 250 a day. Ingredients for the meals are delivered by the “food rescue driver” who drives six days a week with a refrigerated truck to Walmart, Whole Foods, Food Lion, Chic-Fil-A, Porter Gaud, and Bishop Gadsden to pick up food that is still edible, but would otherwise be thrown out, such as blemished fruit or vegetables. Mondays, the driver heads to Coburg Dairy for excess milk. Prestige Farms of Charlotte delivers chicken weekly, and Limehouse Produce delivers fresh produce to fill in what the food recovery truck couldn’t. 

Leftover food comes in at the end of the Wine + Food festival as well – about 3,000 pounds of it. 

But One80 Place has another connection to the foodie festival. Ten trainees and graduates help populate the kitchens behind the events. One graduate, Stefan DeArmon, who’s become known locally as “Reverend Cornbread,” is doing a Bread of the South event with local celeb Carrie Morey of Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit. 

“The idea that no person should go to waste and no food should go to waste is my biggest driving force,” Angie says. “We literally take food that’s wasted by society, and we take people who are undervalued, and we turn them into success stories.” 

 

How You Can Help 
The shelter is open 365 days a year unless Charleston gets evacuated during a hurricane. Visit the website one80place.org to: 

  •  Volunteer to serve meals. 
  • Donate money. From every dollar, 92 cents goes back to the guests.  
  • Donate materials for move-in kits (especially air mattresses) or emergency toiletry kits. 
  • If you’re a chef, volunteer to teach or reach out to partner with One80.