– A little over a year after the pandemic began, hope is emerging in North San Luis Obispo County with the opening of the Must! Charities Community Kitchen & Workforce Development Center. What started as a kitchen renovation for a local homeless shelter is now a state-of-the-art commercial kitchen space for future use as a training and workforce development center. The new facility, located at 6370 Atascadero Ave in Atascadero, California, will serve both El Camino Homeless Organization (ECHO) residents and low-income residents of North County.

“We are so grateful to all of the donors who contributed the $385,000 needed to build the Community Kitchen & Workforce Development Center,” said Executive Director of Must! Charities Becky Gray. “This center is a culmination of four years of collaboration, research, and dedication alongside El Camino Homeless Shelter and local community members. It is a shining example of how collective giving can be pooled to make a big investment with big returns for years to come.”

She explains how the original kitchen project expanded when they realized the need for more training in the hospitality and food industry. According to Gray, one of the most in-demand jobs on the Central Coast was for line cooks prior to the pandemic. She reached out to local restaurant owner Carole MacDonal of Il Cortile and La Cosecha and gave her a tour of the ECHO facility. After sharing her vision, MacDonal was on board and enlisted her husband, Santos MacDonal, Executive Chef of Il Cortile, to help. The MacDonals were able to bring in a top-notch commercial kitchen designer, an architect, and other much-needed resources to help with the community kitchen renovation.

“The renovation provides a place to gather as a “family” and serve healthy meals, but it also provides an opportunity to train residents and others in the community in culinary skills.,” says Wendy Lewis, ECHO’s CEO. “In 2023, we are embarking on a social enterprise project where residents can develop job skills while making pre-packaged soup mixes. For every mix purchased, one will be donated to a person in facing hunger and homelessness right here in our community.”

The Community Kitchen & Workforce Development Center also provides ECHO residents with education on how to prepare wholesome meals for a healthy lifestyle. ECHO currently provides as many as 150 daily meals to residents and members of the local community that might otherwise go without a hot meal. It takes 50 volunteers to provide these meals which equals roughly 54,000 meals annually. Those that stay at the shelter also receive breakfast and lunch. By receiving three hot meals a day, ECHO residents are able to save their money towards permanent housing solutions.

“The revision of the kitchen project is a prime example of how Must! Charities operates,” explains Gray. “By using an investment-minded approach to social initiatives, we identify the most critical community needs of a charitable organization such as ECHO and invest in their infrastructure so they are well-positioned to create positive, measurable change for years to come. We look at ways to improve the organization’s bottom line such as reducing the use of disposable kitchen items which, in turn, helps the environment. We were also able to improve mental wellness support by cutting down on wait lines, allowing more personal interaction with community volunteers and creating a welcoming evening routine that will help residents in their recovery.”

To find out more about the Must! Charities Community Kitchen & Workforce Development Center or to donate to this project, visit mustcharities.org or call (805) 226–5788.

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