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Nourishing Turlock
Community dinner feeds the hungry, prepares culinary students
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Cynthia Telly proudly displays the meal offered to the community at the Turlock Gospel Mission's inaugural Community Dinner on Friday (JOE CORTEZ/The Journal).

The kitchen inside the Turlock Gospel Mission is humming with activity. Dinner is about to be served and the staff is putting the finishing touches on a meal that will sustain many of Turlock’s homeless residents.

Most nights, dinner is reserved for the single unaccompanied women, women with children and men with children who seek shelter in the 60-bed facility — an overflow permit allows TGM to accommodate another two dozen — from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m.

But this particular meal is different.

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Chef Miriah Brazil, volunteer servers Theutly Aguilar and Sarai Murillo, Nourish student Cynthia Telly, and chef Frank Rivera dish up meals at the Turlock Gospel Mission's Community Dinner on Friday (JOE CORTEZ/The Journal).

Members of TGM’s new Nourish program are responsible for planning and preparing the meal. And it’s not being prepared exclusively for the homeless, but for anybody in the community.

The once-monthly Community Dinner is free to all who come.

“Nourish is a job-readiness program,” said TGM executive director Christian Curby. “The thrust of the program is a culinary-training school aimed at those who want to exit homelessness, or recently incarcerated people who are at risk of falling into homelessness.”

Turlock Gospel Mission received a $400,000 grant from the USDA and has worked with the National Institute of Health, Stanislaus County Regional Workforce Development, and others to create a year-long program that provides prospective candidates basic necessities such as housing, food, and clothing. Students then work in the kitchen and the classroom with different types of chefs.

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Turlock community members enjoy a meal at the Turlock Gospel Mission (JOE CORTEZ/The Journal).

They receive 10 weeks of actual culinary training, in addition to working six hours a day providing food for hungry people in the community. They also develop soft employment skills, such as learning how to advocate for themselves, and how to communicate with a supervisor when they have an issue. 

“Not everybody in the program is going to be a chef, we recognize that,” said Curby. “About five months in, the students turn a corner and we hand them off to our partners at Workforce Development. They still live here and continue work through culinary training, but now they begin to talk to Workforce Development about a paid internship.”

During the second half of the program, students will begin getting paid at least minimum wage for 30 hours a week. And they can either choose to work at TGM or engage in another form of training, such as welding, truck driving, or office administration.

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Chef Miriah Brazil and Nourish program student Marie show off the desserts made at the Turlock Gospel Mission (Photo contributed).

But the culinary program is the jumping-off point.

“The other piece of the program is developing the tools to go to work every day,” said Curby. “You show up clean, on time, ready to work, you leave when you’re supposed to … all the little things that most of us develop early in our work life.”

Cynthia Telly, from Waterford, was homeless for about four months before entering the Nourish program.

“I’ve been to culinary school, and I had a big family,” said Telly. “So, I’ve always loved cooking.”

Telly said she’s learning new things in the Nourish program, under the tutelage of chef instructors Frank Rivera, Miriah Brazil, and Carlos Fagundes.

On this Wednesday evening, the Nourish team is preparing a dinner of grilled chicken, tortellini mac and cheese with a parmesan and herb crust, caprese salad, Portuguese beans, and savory sourdough bread. For dessert, they’ve prepared individual-serving cheesecakes (those were donated) with a fruit topping, and lemon cream pie. They’ve also brewed up a batch of horchata, a semi-sweet rice-based drink spiced with cinnamon. 

Telly beams as she ticks off the menu items, one by one.

“Not only am I learning new things, but it’s keeping me busy and keeping me focused on my goals and my plans,” said Telly. “It’s a really awesome program, and the chefs here are awesome.”

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Chef Carlos Fagundes shows off the main attraction — smoked chicken — at Turlock Gospel Mission's Community Dinner (Photo contributed).

Rivera is the baker, Brazil the savory culinary chef, and Fagundes owned and operated the Smokin’ Portagee food truck, which featured meats barbecued in a smoker.

And if the chefs are proud of their culinary creations, they’re even prouder of their students.

“Cynthia and I were preparing the mac and cheese and she asked me to try hers,” said Brazil, a native of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. “I tried hers and I told her, ‘Tell me exactly what you did, because yours is better.’”

Telly’s smile is unmistakable as Brazil recounts this story. 

“You have to really want something better for yourself,” said Telly. “Everything that you have, you have to put into this program. It gives you a direction and a career you might have in the future. And it gets you prepared for when you’re ready to leave here. And you’re more capable, because you’ve dealt with the issues that brought you here.”

The next community meal will be a Thanksgiving lunch held on Nov. 23 at 11:30 a.m. at Turlock Gospel Mission, 437 S. Broadway. The next Community Dinner will be held Dec. 13 at 5:30 p.m. Members of the community are encouraged to attend.