Fresh Food, Fresh Start

Fresh Food, Fresh Start

Homeward Bound of Marin provides shelter, support services and culinary employment training for homeless families and adults in Marin County, California.


Founded in 1974, Homeward Bound of Marin had no culinary programs until 2000, when training began with a handful of residents in the shelter kitchen. Now, culinary social enterprise plays a central role at Homeward Bound of Marin, who opened a 3,000-square-foot training kitchen and event venue in 2008, allowing them to grow and open their doors to the community.


Recognizing that skills for living-wage employment can prevent as well as end homelessness, Homeward Bound’s Fresh Starts Culinary Academy serves low-income people in the community, as well as residents in homeless programs. With Marin County ranked as the least affordable rental market in the country (per the National Low-Income Housing Association), training for sustainable employment is a critical need. The Academy enrolls up to 80 students yearly with 84% of 2016 graduates securing employment within 30 days of completion.


Students at Fresh Starts learn through hands-on experience in 10 weeks of intensive training that integrates them into Homeward Bound’s social enterprises. Along with making meals for an 80-bed adult shelter, they work in catering for The Key Room, an on-site event venue rented for corporate meetings or festive occasions. Students and graduates also work at Jackson Café, a lunch café at the headquarters of Whistlestop, an agency serving seniors. The team makes daily specials, salads and grill items to order and recently won the Pacific Sun newspaper’s award for “Best Meal Under $15.”


Students also participate in the Fresh Starts Chef Events, a monthly series of chef demonstrations and dinner in The Key Room. The Fresh Starts team preps for the demo, makes the recipes for 120 guests and serves the course-by-course meal. These popular events host TV personalities and award winning chefs, raise money for Homeward Bound’s programs and invite the public to see the Academy’s work in action and connect with the people it serves.  


But participants in the program don’t just make food for people. In Homeward Bound’s start-up enterprise, Wagster Treats, graduates are employed to bake and package all natural gourmet dog biscuits. Now carried in more than 100 stores, including Pet Food Express, this initiative spreads the promise of social enterprise with its tagline: “Life-Changing Dog Treats.” As Wagster Treats grows, it expands employment and revenues that build skills and brighter futures.

Graduates are also able to take their skills to new employment opportunities. A recent graduate of the program, Defonte, had never eaten a salad before walking through Homeward Bound’s doors. Now, he cooks at the wok station of an upscale grocery, allowing him to provide for himself and move into his own apartment. “What I got from Fresh Starts was amazing,” he says.


Homeward Bound of Marin, through their Fresh Starts Culinary Academy, chef event series and Wagster Treats social enterprise, has created an ecosystem that provides sustainable employment and learning opportunities for the homeless members of their community. They are proud to be members of SEA and learn from other social enterprises across the country.

To learn more about Homeward Bound of Marin, check out their member directory profile.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.