What's Cooking at the Cathedral?

The Clara White Mission in Jacksonville has established a partnership with St. John's Episcopal Church to provide a community café. The café is designed to serve the community and to showcase and promote the Mission's culinary arts program and its students. Clara's at the Cathedral offers an upscale dining experience with a warm family atmosphere and provides employment and vocational training, while generating revenue and visibility for the Mission.

[Photo 1: Clara's at the Cathedral]

Founded in 1904 and incorporated in 1936, the Clara White Mission, Inc. is a private non-profit organization with a mission to provide services and resources to persons needing the opportunity to achieve or regain self-sufficiency, to build self-esteem, and to become contributing members of the community.

It is one of thirteen organizations that comprise Jacksonville/Duval County's Homeless Continuum of Care. The Clara White Mission is using part of the $132,039 in funding the Continuum received from HUD in 2006 to support its jobs for the homeless program.

In addition to transitional housing with supportive services, the Mission serves a variety of community needs including vocational training, case management, life skills training, a drop-in center for veterans (75%) and other (25%) homeless males, and giving priority to ex-offenders among other homeless. The Mission's goal is to move them to permanent housing and independent living by the end of 24 months. The Mission provides a daily meal program and a prevention program for at-risk youth.

Everyday, the Clara White Mission helps Jacksonville's homeless gain hopeful, new perspectives in restoring their lives. Their daily meals, drop-in center, job training, job placement programs, housing and youth services, are all the first steps of a second chance.

Clara's at the Cathedral not only has the customer in mind, but also its workers. In its third year, the Mission's four-month culinary program teaches food preparation, baking and cooking, as well as front-of-the-house service training. The students prepare meals that are served daily at the mission and also work as part of the mission's catering service.

[Photo 2: Kitchen activity]

While many of the students have worked in professional kitchens in the past, few have had any classroom training and agree that the culinary course is offering a life-changing opportunity. "This got me off the streets and gave me my life back," said waiter John Chaney, 52 of Jacksonville Beach, who is in a drug rehabilitation program.

After students complete the program, the Mission arranges internships and job placement assistance. Statistics show that 70 percent of graduates have a full or part-time job 30 days after leaving. Also, half of those who have completed the program are still employed at jobs that pay between $8 and $15 per hour. The cafe's purpose is to give hands-on experience to the students, generate funds for the Mission and to offer more visibility for their varied activities and services. "This lets the community know that we are more than just a soup kitchen. We are really a community development center in terms of restoring and building lives of people," said Ju'Coby Pittman-Peele, CEO and president of the Clara White Mission.

Lunch is prepared and served by 17 members of the Clara White culinary program. These vocational students are among those who receive the benefits of the Mission's rehabilitative services. Carey Green, 39, of Jacksonville, had past military kitchen experience before entering the Clara White program. He's learning about proper sanitation practices and other skills. He lost his last job after being hurt in a car accident. "A bad thing turned into a wonderful thing."

Clara's will be open from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Fridays. The limited menu will vary weekly and include a choice of soup or salad, a couple of hot or cold entrees and a dessert for less than $8. Although dinner is served in the cathedral's spacious Taliaferro Hall, this is a dining experience, not a religious one. However, it may have had some divine inspiration. "This has been a dream since my first day when I saw this beautiful space," said the Very Rev. Edward Harrison, dean of the cathedral. "We use this space on Sunday and Wednesday, but this belongs to the community."

Harrison had heard of other churches offering similar programs and wanted to do something here. He remembered the day he acted upon the inspiration and approached Ms. Pittman-Peele with the idea. He was met by silence. "When she finally spoke, she said, 'We have the same dream.'"

The week before the call, Ju'Coby wondered how to expand the culinary program. "I wanted to do a cafe, but I didn't want to do it at the mission," she said. "I wanted something upscale." Clara's at the Cathedral is counting on local office workers to make dining there a weekly habit. Bob Stone, program director, said the cafe's goal is to be self-sufficient and one day soon to take reservations.

Content Archived: July 11, 2011