College culinary program gives homeless a new set of skills

by: Lorena Incl\u00E1n Updated:


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A local man has turned his love for cooking into a way out of homelessness.

It's all thanks to a program at First Coast Technical College that offers a glimmer of hope to many who live on the street.

Action News Jax spent the day with one man who got a fresh start in life and the people who made it happen.

A tender pork stew brews in the kitchen as a fresh tomato salad is served. This isn't just any kitchen and Vernon Kerver, who goes by Rusty, isn't just any cook.

“The meat's gotta be real tender. A lot of these guys don't have good teeth, you've gotta think about things like that,” said Kerver, St. Francis House’s kitchen manager.

The meals he's creating are for people who don't have a home who depend on St. Francis House for a meal.

Kerver knows what it is to be hungry. He was once in their shoes.

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“It really brings your psyche down and one of the only things that you could protect yourself with is to numb the pain and so you drink. That's what I did,” Kerver said.

Kerver now has a full time job as the kitchen manager at the very shelter he once lived in.

“I do what I've always wanted to do and that's cook,” Kerver said.

The First Coast Technical College program is called "Fresh Starts."  Chef Ted Kowalski teaches the four week class.

“They leave with a sanitation certificate, which allows them to get a job in the market place they gain hand skills confidence,” said Kowalski.

All the food is donated — the chef coat, aprons and hats are too.

The students don't pay a dime thanks to proceeds from the Spanish Wine Festival and other organizations.

Kowalski will teach his seventh course next month. For Kerver, it's more than a fresh start at life.

“I enjoy the way people feel when they eat my food,” Kerver said.

It gave him a purpose, it gave him hope.

“If it wasn't for this place with the tough love and all of that I probably would've been gone a while ago like a few of my friends,” Kerver said.

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