More than just food: Chicago Food Depository job training program helping community

CHICAGO — Chicago Food Depository is a powerhouse when it comes to serving a network of more than 400 food pantries, shelters, and soup kitchens in Chicago and Cook County.

The warehouse on the city’s Southwest Side is filled with people working tirelessly to feed the hungry during a pandemic.

It is now a place where finding work is on the menu too.

Jose Rivera grew up on the rough streets of Humboldt Park. He couldn’t be happier to help with the work at the Greater Chicago Food Depository during a pandemic. He isn’t a volunteer. He was brought on staff as the demand at food banks was rapidly growing.

Rivera he was able to land a paid job, when others likely wouldn’t hire him. He was just released from federal prison after spending seven years there on drug charges. Tattoos, prison time and an electronic monitoring device creating challenges he knew he’d have to overcome in the job market.

 “Unfortunately for most of my life I’ve been in and out of prison since the age of 14,” he said. “I needed to change something in life.”

He had a wife and five children he wanted to take care of on the outside.

Four years ago, he found God and set his sights on owning his own trucking company someday. While at a halfway house last spring, Rivera heard about the Greater Chicago Food Depository and the new warehouse and supply chain job training program that was born out of the pandemic.

Malik Kemokai runs the program.

 “If we provide training for meaningful employment, we can support participants to become self-sufficient and end hunger and poverty,” Kemokai said.

And that’s the key. The job training supports the same mission as the food bank. Because in the 268,000 square foot warehouse, when the need for food goes up, so does the need for people to work here. Volunteers are a big help, but the food bank is aware of the vicious cycle that feeds hunger unless something changes.

Rivera is a proud member of the program’s first job training graduating class. He happened to land a job back at the food depository, but others could end up anywhere working a warehouse or supply chain industry job. It starts with a 4 -6 week training program and includes a two week internship somewhere local.

Rivera aced tests, worked hard and enjoyed the challenge as a trainee. He had lots of job offers.

 “Here, they treated me so much like family,” he said. “I declined the other officers and I accepted the job here.”

 “Jose ended up being what we want for all of our participants to be,” Kemokai said.

Rivera is a success to all who work with him and a success in his own mind too.. At 52, this is just the beginning for him. He’s only looking forward.

“As long as I put my work and effort into it, I realized there is nothing in life that I can’t do,” he said.