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      Culinary program for the homeless leads to potential careers

      Five weeks into the Coastal Cooks curriculum at the Street Reach Mission in Myrtle Beach, three future chefs showed off their food preparation skills Thursday in their biggest culinary challenge to date. They prepared a special full-course luncheon for graduates and guests of the homeless shelter's 12-step addiction program, complete with salad, hors d'oeuvres and entrees.

      "We did tomato basil porchetta, we did chicken salad sandwiches on really good yeast rolls, we did egg salad, we did deviled eggs," said Betty Bromley, founder and instructor of the 10-week free culinary program, aimed at giving homeless Street Reach residents the skills they need to start a new life and new career.

      Bromley said she modeled the school after Cincinnati Cooks a similar program for the homeless in Ohio.

      Along with teaching the finer points of preparing a fruit crudite or a shrimp cocktail, Bromley also stresses the realities of working in a professional kitchen. "We'll do life skills with them, we'll do interview skills with them, and we will be with them every step, even after we put them in a job."

      Those life lessons are necessary, Bromley said, because the program has endured a few bumps since it began August 15th. The school started with five students; two have dropped out.

      "You sign a contract and the contract says that you will be here every day, you will be on time, and if you're not...?" Bromley shrugs her shoulders. "You know, you're not interested in this program enough to do it."

      Six new students will start the program next week. The existing students will serve as their mentors.

      Student Donna Haake describes herself as a good home cook, one who enjoyed preparing meals for families and parties, but never had formal training. A longtime alcoholic, Haake wound up in Myrtle Beach three years ago, following a relationship that failed. Now, she says, she's been sober for more than a year and, at age 61, ready for a new start.

      "This program is a Godsend and Miss Betty is a Godsend," Haake said.

      Most people don't realize how much hard work is required to run a restaurant kitchen, Haake said. The sauces and soups are just the beginning. "The proper way to use knives, the proper reasons for sanitation, the danger of food contamination. And you learn all that stuff now, like how to prevent any kind of accidents and that kind of thing, so it's a very good background."

      For the past month, the Coastal Cooks program has prepared meals for 75 people a day at Street Reach, plus at least 40 more residents at the Citizens Against Spouse Abuse shelter in Myrtle Beach and at Balsam Place Apartments for the homeless.

      "We're extending. It's God's way, to serve others," Haake said. "Ultimately, I benefit from it by being part of all this."

      Though the Coastal Cooks program is Bromley's dream, she also works full time as a professional chef at The Cooper House Event Center for the homeless.

      "We're extending. It's God's way, to serve others," Haake said. "Ultimately, I benefit from it by being part of all this."

      Though the Coastal Cooks program is Bromley's dream, she also works full time as a professional chef at The Cooper House Event Center in Socastee. Her goal is to entice a retired chef to take over the teaching part. Until that happens, Coastal Cooks will be what Bromley does for love and no money. "It's just been great. Every day is fun."

      So, how did Thursday's luncheon go over with the crowd?

      Said one Street Reach resident, between bites, "The food is excellent, aces, delicious every time."

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