LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – As the restaurant and hospitality industry ramps back up as COVID-19 restrictions ease, a nonprofit in Pittsburgh’s Hazelwood neighborhood is doing its part to prepare a workforce ready to make it thrive.

Community Kitchen Pittsburgh is using food as the “foundation to change lives and strengthen communities,” not just by giving it away, but by “turning it into life changing careers.”

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Enrollment in CPK’s four-week culinary program is free to students who are accepted, many of whom face barriers to employment and challenges at home. Coordinators say the kitchen provides training and stability.

“I can relate to the challenges and I have empathy but I will not provide sympathy because if I can do it, they can do it,” chef trainer Garland Richie tells CBS Pittsburgh.

Donor funding and revenue from some food sales help pay for the program.

“If they have some obstacles in the background that may hinder them from giving 100 percent in class, we help them with that as well. Whether it be legal, homelessness, whether it be driving, we offer bus passes. As much as we can do,” Garland says.

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Richie says the CPK staff is focused on a common goal during this pivotal time.

“That they are ready to hit the floor running,” he explains. “That helps the restaurant business.”

And it helps the students in so many other ways.

“Outside of the program, I have lost friends and family. When I come here, it’s a good way to get away and be around a lot of people I love and care about,” student Delon Baskins says.

Students make food that feeds the homeless and less fortunate in various community outreach organizations.

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“When the meals leave out, these are for people that are hungry, less fortunate. So knowing that they’re depending on us, that’s a big difference,” student Maya Wilson says.