Baltimore Outreach Services cooks up success for women at its shelters

From left, Latitia Carter, culinary graduate; Chef Connie Crabtree-Burritt; Michele Gray, culinary graduate; and Posie Spratley, sous chef.
From left, Latitia Carter, culinary graduate; Chef Connie Crabtree-Burritt; Michele Gray, culinary graduate; and Posie Spratley, sous chef. (Steffi Graham Photo, Baltimore Sun)

When Latitia Carter and her then-12-year-old son sought temporary housing at Baltimore Outreach Services' emergency shelter in Federal Hill, she wasn't looking for a job — just a roof over her head while she rebounded from a rough spell that included getting laid off from her job at a uniform company. But to her surprise, she also found a new career in the culinary arts.

Thanks to the Baltimore Outreach Services culinary arts training program, Carter has a full time job with Hyatt Regency.


The nonprofit that provides shelter and other services for homeless women and children, received a jobs-based grant from long-term supporter The Baltimore Women's Giving Circle in 2005.

It was in 2005 that Baltimore Outreach Services was able, according to its website, to implement a jobs program and conduct its first culinary arts training.


Karen Adkins, executive director of Baltimore Outreach Services, recalls that pivotal moment in the nonprofit's history.

"We were looking at people who needed entry-level job skills. My first reaction was: It [job training] needs to be succinct and fast," she said.

Enter Connie Crabtree-Burritt, a veteran of the culinary arts industry in Baltimore. Crabtree-Burritt, who started her career in 1972 as chef and partner of the Ellicott City landmark restaurant Cacao Lane at a time when few women in the industry held such influential positions, welcomed the call from Adkins about developing and teaching a culinary job training course for women at the shelter.

A strong supporter of the nonprofit who owns a catering company blocks from Baltimore Outreach Services' headquarters on South Charles Street, Crabtree-Burritt was eager to give women a set of skills that would allow them to find immediate employment in commercial kitchens.

Her expertise in the culinary industry and strong ties in the local restaurant community enabled her to take full ownership of the training program, from designing an effective course to forging partnerships with area food operations that could hire graduates as interns or paid employees.

It didn't take long. The nonprofit launched its culinary course the same year it received the grant.

Nearly a decade later, the rigorous course — which typically teaches about 10 students at a time — runs eight weeks, five hours per day. It's open to all adults housed at the nonprofit's shelter and, as availability permits, to women from other nearby shelters.

Students learn everything from the language used in commercial kitchens to hands-on food preparation skills. Graduates also leave the course prepared to take an exam that can earn them a ServSafe certificate, a significant advantage since every commercial kitchen is required to have at least one employee who possesses such certification.

"If I can send women into the workforce who have limited education but now have basic life skills like being on time and getting childcare for your children, plus tangible kitchen skills and food safety, that's rewarding," Crabtree-Burritt said.

To date, the Baltimore Outreach Services' culinary program has put more than 100 women to work, in spite of the obstacles they face.

In addition to homelessness, several other factors challenge these women when they are looking for meaningful employment. As Adkins said, many haven't finished high school; they often have spotty work histories; some deal with substance abuse and mental illness; and, typically, their level of poverty has kept them socially isolated from people who are successful.

"Often, our culinary arts graduate ceremony is the first such graduation ceremony they have attended," Adkins said.


For many, however, what happens next — securing a stable job — is the even bigger reward.

"I love my job; it's fun. I'm learning a lot of new stuff and, if I don't know something, they'll explain it to me," said Carter, who is enrolled as a full-time employee of the Hyatt Regency's culinary training program.

To commemorate 10 years of the nonprofit's success at offering shelter and services to women like Carter, the nonprofit has put together a cookbook. But not just any old cookbook.

"BOS Cooks" (2013, Favorite Recipes Press, a division of Southwestern Publishing Group) is a coffee-table hardback book written by Adkins with contributions from many supporters of the nonprofit.

Local artist Crystal Moll illustrated the cover; Crabtree-Burritt individually tested all 200 or so recipes; nine other area artists contributed original artwork and photography; and women who've stayed at the shelter offered quotes.

One former resident, now living independently, wrote this in the book:

"I never knew that people helped people they did not know until I came to this shelter. I am very grateful that BOS gave my family and I a place to live, food to eat, and clothes to wear. Then they helped me make a plan to get on my feet again."

Books are sold at local retailers, including: McCormick World of Flavors in Harborplace, Visionary Art Museum, Ivy Bookstore, Graul's Market in Ruxton and by clicking on http://baltimoreoutreach.donorpages.com/BOSCooksCookbook/DonnaRich/

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