Nominee: Ismael Rascon
Ismael Rascon, Chef of Culinary Training and Community Meals, Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona (Caridad Community Kitchen)
Nominated by co-worker, Megan Black
Ismael leads our Culinary Job Training Program and our Community Meals Program. When Ismael arrives in the morning, he reviews the production plan for the day with the rest of our kitchen team, including the two staff he supervises. He checks in with our volunteers to make sure they have what they need to prepare our grab and go lunches, and then jumps into training with students. Depending on the morning, he may be teaching a demo or supporting a student in executing their own menu. Ismael collaborates with his lead cook to prepare menus for the hot meals that we distribute both at our sites and partner meal sites across the city. When time allows, Ismael will serve meals to our program participants, many of which he knows by name.
Ismael, or as our students call him, Chef Izzy, has been our lead Chef trainer for over four years. He has guided our students through thousands of hours of culinary training and hands-on work experience in our kitchen. He takes an active role in our student’s job search, and spearheads our internship program with local restaurants. While Ismael is a talented culinarian and teacher, it is his life experience that brings extraordinary power to his work.
Ismael has experienced many of the same challenges that our students face every day, and his perspective has allowed us to create a program that truly centers the needs of our community members. Ismael’s openness and vulnerability around his experiences ensures that our students are being led by someone that they can see themselves in. The stigmas around experiences such as incarceration, addiction, and houselessness stop at the doors to Ismael’s training kitchen. He is an empathetic chef that will push his students to reach their full potential.
Ismael’s passion for community work extends beyond training. He also leads our Community Meals Program, which provides an average of 3000 meals per week to partner organizations. He is diligent in his advocacy for dignity in service at all of our meal sites, and piloted a meal choice program prior to the pandemic. Ismael also innovated the concept for our kitchen’s harm reduction program that operates during our meal service. Our community kitchen has become one of the most consistent syringe access sites in our area, which sees the largest number of overdoses in our city. In addition to sharing his experiences, Ismael always asks “have we asked our guests(clients) or alumni?” when we consider making a programmatic change. He reminds us of why we are here, which is to serve the needs of our community.
Some highlights of Ismael's impact include:
Forged partnerships with four restaurants to host students as interns during their training program.
Played an integral role in creating and launching a syringe access program at our kitchen.
Grew our meal production by 50% in an effort to meet the increased need for food during the pandemic.