Heart and Soul Food…Special Needs Program and Its New Home

By Lara Barrett – JFCS Marketing & Communications Director

Walking through the new Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey building at 1721 Springdale Road in Cherry Hill, there is a mingling of sweet and savory scents that welcome you. Giving in to your senses, you follow the lure of warm, wafting streams of baked goods, simmering soups, and muffins rising – and you can’t help but smile.  You are led to a kitchen, bustling with students, teachers, and volunteers working together to create delicious fare.  There is just something about comfort foods that makes your soul happy.  But as anyone who knows will tell you, this is more than just a kitchen.  It’s a dream and a heart-felt mission, to give participants of the JFCS Soups and Sweets Special Needs Culinary Training Program a place to flourish,  tap into their creativity, and enrich their lives, while learning culinary skills.

“Ron Dubrow would have been so proud; this was his baby.  He would be so happy to see this program here in this space, with this new kitchen,” says Ronni Trainor, Catering Coordinator for the JFCS Soups and Sweets Program, with tears in her eyes.  “It was so important for him to see this be successful.  Even in the beginning stages of the program, before we had our own kitchen, he would come and visit the students and chef every week to see how they were doing – and of course try a few of the warm chocolate chip cookies.”

Ellen and Ron Dubrow (z”l) were both deeply committed to helping families with special needs, and believed that everyone should have a chance to reach their highest potential.  The Ellen Dubrow Developmental Disabilities Endowment Fund was set up in 1998 – and helped to pave the way for the growth of JFCS’ special needs program.  “We are so excited to have a dedicated kitchen for the Soups and Sweets training program. It is with a heartfelt thanks to the Dubrow family that these kitchen renovations were possible. The Dubrow family –  Rande Dubrow; Jen, Jim, Ilana and Emma Weiss; Rachel, Kevin, Zach and Erin Smith; Jon, Stacy, Sean Gelman and Jill Burak –  put their passion into helping individuals with special needs,” says Barbara Abrams, Director of JFCS Special Needs Program. “We are also moved by the generosity of Columbia Bank Foundation who donated the walk-in refrigerator/freezer.”  The new kitchen was truly a labor of love, Abrams notes, and took over a year to rework the original space from the ground up, to fit the criteria of the program. If you ask anyone associated with the program, it was well worth the wait and hard work to see this come to fruition.

“The students really love it,” says Soups and Sweets Program chef /teacher Louis Ruttenberg. “Since it is our own kitchen, the students can display their tools and equipment for easy access.  We have now two mixers, a proofing oven, two dough dividers, and other kitchen appliances. Next to the kitchen is a separate ante-room for the students to study and learn culinary lessons, and there is even space for the storage of ingredients and equipment. It is wonderful that we are in the same building as the rest of the JFCS Special Needs Program, so that we communicate more easily with our colleagues.”

The JFCS Soups and Sweets Special Needs Culinary Training Program was launched in January of 2013, with 33 trainees graduating from the program thus far. To date, 71% of the graduates obtained employment in food services and an additional 15% are employed in another field – an 86% success rate.  The program also offers catering to the community, and that aspect of the program will feel the benefits of the new location and kitchen as well. The flexibility of having its own space allows the program to be operational five days a week and will also provide customers with a pick up location for their orders that they can recognize as Soups and Sweets catering.  The Soups and Sweets catering services have grown over the past few years, and are slated to bring in over $75,000 in revenue for 2016, which will be re-invested back into helping to fortify the program.

The momentum of this program is increasing at every turn, with no evidence of slowing, thanks to a family, and a community, who believe that dreams do come true. Someone once said that a kitchen is the heart of the home.  While the new Soups and Sweets kitchen isn’t in a residence per se, many hearts do find a home there. And, while not all of the souls who helped create the magic to launch and propel Soups and Sweets are still with us, they would be elated to know that the students are finding joy, pride, and lasting success in a program they all helped to build.

For more information on the Soups and Sweets Special Needs Culinary Training Program, menu offerings, and more, please reach out to Barbara Abrams at 856-424-1333 or email babrams@jfedsn.org.


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