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Salvation Army culinary class teaches trainees more than cooking

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The Salvation Army Harbor Light Center in downtown Denver started their culinary classes to help get trainees back on their feet and into the workforce.

DENVER — The Salvation Army Harbor Light Center in downtown Denver launched a culinary class that teaches more than cooking. The eight-week course is free to anyone who uses services offered by the Salvation Army. 

Classes are taught by culinary director Chef James Prunty who wants to help get trainees back into the workforce.

“The goal is to get them back on their feet,” Prunty said. “Right now, the average cook position out in the workforce is 20 something dollars an hour and to me, what can I do to help them get that 20?”

Culinary trainees spend their time learning the basics, like food prep, kitchen safety standards and recipes. After graduation, local agencies work with the trainees and place them with jobs in the restaurant and service industry.


According to the Colorado Restaurant Association, Colorado restaurants employ 11% of the state’s labor force but eight out of 10 restaurants are struggling to hire enough staff.


“If you look at a restaurant that used to be open until 9 o’clock and now they’re shutting down at 6 o’clock, and that’s [because] they don’t have the staff to work,” Prunty said. “So, my thing is, how do I go about helping those individuals to get those jobs.”

Culinary trainee Dominique Hill heard about the classes when she and her three sons were living in a Salvation Army shelter. She said enrolled in the courses because she wanted to create a better life for her family.


“I got connected with the navigator at the shelter and found out about this program,” Hill said. “It’s given me something to look forward to, helping me better myself, so that’s what that class does for me.”

Now she’s learning her way around the kitchen with the help of Prunty. She’s looking forward to graduating and making new meals for her sons.


“I’ve learned how to make dessert; I’ve learned how to put recipes together and how to calculate the ingredients in a recipe, so I’ve pretty much learned a lot,” Hill said. “Hopefully [I can] find a good paying job somewhere where I can make some real good money and be able to take care of my kids.”

After graduating from the program, students earn a certificate from the National Restaurant Association’s ServSafe program, and that certification is good for four years.

“My best hope is that when they leave here, they can get a job,” Prunty said. “To get their confidence up so they can walk in that door and say, ‘Ok, when do I start?’”


It’s a direction Hill hopes will cook up into opportunities to live up to her long-time commitment to her family.

“It was rough, but I made it through,” Hill said. “I finally got my place so me and my kids are finally stable, and we’re moving forward trying to make things a whole lot better for ourselves.”

“It’s a win for the community that’s getting people back out into the workforce,” Prunty added. “And it’s a win for the person that’s looking for something to do in their life.”

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Salvation Army culinary class teaches trainees more than cooking

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