Operation Santa Claus: St. Mary's gives adults a second chance in life

St. Mary's Food Bank Alliance feeds thousands of people every year. But, do you know about the other ways St. Mary's transforms lives in our community? They offer a culinary program, which gives adults a second chance in life.

"I was trafficking heroin," said Gemma Alaniz. "The day I was caught, I was scared. I knew that I was going away for awhile."

Several years later, fresh out of prison, Gemma had had no where to live, no job to work.

"My felony was holding me back," she explained.

That is when a case worker told her to apply to St. Mary's Community Kitchen. It is a 12-week program, where adult students learn the skills to be successful in the food service industry.

"They reach out to people in need who have barriers in their lives," Gemma says.

They're people who have felonies or come straight out of recovery.

"Some of them are homeless," Gemma explained. "Not knowing what they're going to do next."

They're people just like Gemma and Scott Griffin.

"Was never given much encouragement that I would ever make it anywhere," Scott said. But, the fear he felt walking into class on day one, vanished by day two.

"Students welcomed me, staff welcomed me," he explained.

Now, five weeks into the Community Kitchen program, he's flourishing. "Being here, there's no 'you can't do it.'  There's only: 'you will succeed'," explained Scott.

It's motivational coaching, through cooking.

"We don't just learn skills to cook. We have life skills classes. We have anger management classes," he says.

The program empowers disadvantaged adults by teaching them to be self-sufficient.

"We learn every aspect of the restaurant business: From taking out the trash to doing the dishes, to prepping the steak and different types of paperwork," he says.

Skills to help land that perfect job after graduation. Which, for Gemma, turned out to be right here at St. Mary's Community Kitchen.

Your generosity makes this program free for people who need assistance and are looking for a positive life change.  It's just one of the ways your donations to Operation Santa Claus impact the Valley in a big way.

Donating is easy. You can do so at Sanderson Ford or Lincoln, the ABC15 studios or any of 120+ UPS store locations.  Or, you can always donate at www.givetotheclaus.com.

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