Young adult shelter makes plans for commercial kitchen

Salem homeless service provider Church at the Park hopes to build a new commercial kitchen, which would bring its food services in-house while giving young shelter residents a place to bolster their resumes.

The provider operates several micro shelter villages in Salem, and altogether hosts about 250 shelter beds. Each person who stays with them is provided at least a meal a day.

“That’s a lot of food,” said DJ Vincent, founding pastor.

Currently, those meals come from the Salvation Army Kroc Center, Vincent said. By bringing food production in-house with a new commercial kitchen, Church at the Park hopes to control costs and to help residents develop job skills for careers in food service.

The kitchen, which they hope to open next fall, would be staffed by residents of the young adult micro shelter at 2410 Turner Rd. S.E., which hosts 40 people ages 18 to 24.

Residents would learn how to work in a bakery, do proper food preparation and handling, and how to transport food and cater, which Vincent said will make them more employable.

“And at the same time, (the kitchen) maybe reduces some of the false-starts and early fails in a job because we’ve been having them in a training environment,” Vincent said.

The new young adult shelter opened in early October, and Vincent said it has exceeded expectations, and filled up faster than they expected.

The shelter includes connections with health and wellness providers and mental health counseling. In August 2022, the Salem City Council allocated $750,000 in state sheltering grant money to open the shelter. Its planned opening was delayed by nearly a year.

Vincent is hopeful the shelter’s ongoing operations will be funded by state money. Other Church at the Park sites have been funded by city dollars which are scheduled to run out in 2024 and  2025.

“We were able to get young adults who were interested in coming into the space who wanted to agree to the community guidelines. They wanted to build their capacity around what healthcare connections they have, what job connections they have, what education and then housing,” he said.

Vincent said that younger people benefit from longer stays at the shelter, where they can develop educational and job connections.

“So that we’re not serving them at a different site a year down the road, we’re wanting to make sure when they leave us they’ve got a pretty strong team of resources around,” he said.

Already, six residents have started new jobs and two have gotten into longer term housing, Vincent said.

Most of the newly acquired jobs have been in food service, something that feeds into the commercial kitchen concept. Food service tends to employ young people, and it’s a teachable skill set, he said.

“We know that food provides jobs, so we want to be doing some of that early developmental skill building,” Vincent said. “It started off like: ‘Hey, we need more and more food. Can we bring this in-house?’” 

He said the Church at the Park’s team also has experience in food service training, including their operations director Josh Erickson who previously was the program director at the non-profit Isaac’s Room’s that teaches young adults life skills through employment at Salem coffee shops.

The training positions would be unpaid, but with opportunities to move up into stipend internship-like positions that require more of a commitment, and would last around a season to make sure multiple young adults can have the opportunity.

The program would be partly funded using the food costs the shelters currently have, and Vincent said they’re in talks with Chemeketa Community College and Willamette Workforce about possible grants and training opportunities.

Church at the Park is fundraising for the kitchen which will cost around $700,000 for facility upgrades and equipment, according to an informational flier

They’ve secured over $300,000 in grants, Vincent said, and have raised $56,750 out of their $80,000 matching goal as of Monday, Vincent said.

“We just think it’s a big win for the community that those young adults who’ve been struggling or experienced trauma, that we’re going to be building those initial work skills they need to thrive,” Vincent said.

Blueprints of Church at the Park’s planned commercial kitchen for its Turner Road micro shelter, as shown in a fundraising flier (Courtesy/ Church at the Park)

Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-704-0355.

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Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.