1. News
  2. /
  3. Hillsborough

FRESHForce aims to help end food insecurity through job training

Feeding Tampa Bay’s job training program aims to help reduce barriers to entry in the workforce
Jocelyn Lester, 54, left, of Tampa chops up garlic while working on her salsa recipe during Chef Rick Ceglio, right, culinary class at the Italian Club in the Ybor City. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
Jocelyn Lester, 54, left, of Tampa chops up garlic while working on her salsa recipe during Chef Rick Ceglio, right, culinary class at the Italian Club in the Ybor City. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published Dec. 5, 2019

TAMPA — In the industrial kitchen of the Italian Club, chef Rick Ceglio nodded after sampling the pico de gallo Jocelyn Lester had prepared.

“You don’t need to add anything,” he said.

Ceglio had spent the morning talking about the merits of a good pico de gallo as his five pupils stood at their cutting board stations, loaded with onions, tomatoes, jalapenos, cilantro, limes, avocados and leeks.

He’d taught them how to safely handle their knives, how to dice the tomatoes (not so big that the pieces break the chips) and how to handle their onions (with the rings intact so people can tell it’s homemade). But mostly what he hoped to teach them were things they wouldn’t learn elsewhere: soft skills, how to interact in a workplace.

“If you can handle a knife and you know the difference between a pot and pan, you’re in good shape with me,” he said. “Everything else will be retaught anyway.”

Chef Rick Ceglio, center, samples salsa made by Carmela Dubbs, 44, of Tampa, while Jocelyn Lester, 54, left, of Tampa looks on. Feeding Tampa Bay offers training and credentials, including in culinary skills, to people looking to enter the workforce. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]

Tonight, the students will be part of 13 graduating as the first cohort of FRESHForce, a new initiative started by Feeding Tampa Bay to help end food insecurity by helping people with barriers to entry in the workforce find employment and income.

“We look to see what we can do beyond serving a meal that day or a bag of groceries that would last a couple days,” said Matt Spence, chief programs officer at Feeding Tampa Bay. “We started looking for strategies that would not just serve people in line for food but serve people out of a line."

The program, funded by Amazon, DTCC, Valley Bank and the state division of cultural affairs, offers training in one of three tracks — culinary, warehouse or commercial driver’s license — to anyone eligible for Feeding Tampa Bay’s food services.

The students each receive a stipend for the 10-week program and attend courses Monday through Friday.

Lester, 54, held a corporate job for several years. In a 4-year span, she lost her mother and grandson in traumatic events, she said, and she later lost her job.

“It kind of put me in a situation where I lost myself,” she said. “I was in corporate America, and of course, corporate America is corporate America.”

FRESHForce, she said, has given her renewed hope about re-entering the workforce at what she called a “seasoned” age. Ceglio, she said, even made breakfast for the students each day.

Feeding Tampa Bay offers training and credentials, including in culinary skills, to people looking to enter the workforce. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]

“Everyone has a background, everyone has a past,” Lester said. “But you can’t look back on your past, you have to look forward to your future and this is giving a lot of open doors to a lot of people.”

Derrell Smith, who worked in a storeroom for six years, was enrolled in the warehouse training program, where graduates receive OSHA, forklift and certified logistics credentials. His arrest record, he said, had been a barrier to entry for many other opportunities.

“A lot of us have skills, but nobody would hire us,” he said. “Feeding Tampa Bay looked past our pasts and gave us this opportunity to be the best we can be, to rebuild and to grow. It’s not just the money, that helps. To know that somebody believes in you and is giving you an opportunity, while others push you to the side, it means a lot.”

Chef Rick Ceglio, left, works with Haley King, 20, of Tampa on making a salsa recipe during his culinary class at the Italian Club in in the Ybor City neighborhood on Tuesday, November 26, 2019. Feeding Tampa Bay offers training and credentials, including in culinary skills, to people looking to enter the workforce. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]

Spence said he hopes the program will continue to change the perception of food insecurity.

“Ninety-plus percent of the people who receive assistance take it back to a home they own or rent,” he said. “They’re your neighbors. They’re people who are serving you in a restaurant. They’re people who are sitting near you in class. It’s honestly a blessing. It’s a privilege, not just to serve somebody a meal. It’s a privilege to offer them a future.”


  1. The techniques are as varied as the costumes when Gasparilla parade-goers beckon for beads from the floats. [MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times]
    We were warned. Now the pirates are here. Stay with all day for the latest reports.
  2. Check for the latest breaking news and updates. [Times]
    Police say a motorcycle and another vehicle collided on W. Boy Scout Boulevard Saturday afternoon. At least one person was killed.
  3. A for sale sign is seen in front of a home in the Westchase area of Tampa. CHRIS URSO  |  Times (2013)
    And a spike in cash sales suggests investors were active in the market.
  4. Leading the way up Seddon Channel during the 2014 pirate invasion is the Jose Gasparilla, escorted by a Tampa Police Department boat and surrounded by hundreds of private vessels. [LUIS SANTANA  |  Times 2014]
    As many as 100 law enforcement boats from some 20 agencies will keep an eye out for drunk operators and boats in trouble.
  5. Hillsborough deputies say Lesly Mendoza, 5, is missing and endangered because of allegations of abuse. [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
    Investigators believe Lesly Mendoza, 5, is endangered because of allegations of abuse.
  6. A look at the construction on the Tierra Verde bridge project which is the bridge between Isla Del Sol and Tierra Verde islands on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020 in St. Petersburg. The project began in December 2018 and is scheduled to be completed in summer of 2021. [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Dr. Delay takes a deep dive into the construction process for the $56.3 million State Road 679 and Bayway Bridge project .
  7. A proposed bill in the Legislature would set a statewide referendum on whether to amend Florida's constitution to add a year to the period when home buyers can transfer their accumulated benefits under the Save Our Homes cap on property assessments to a new home. Pinellas County Property Appraiser Mike Twitty says going from two years to three would reduce the possibility that construction delays in a booming real estate market would prevent some buyers from meeting the deadline, costing them potentially thousands 
 of dollars in property tax savings. [SUSAN TAYLOR MARTIN | Times (2019)]
    The bill, the idea of Pinellas County Property Appraiser Mike Twitty, would give buyers another year to transfer their tax savings under Florida’s Save Our Homes assessment cap to a home they’ve...
  8. Child and family advocate Jack Levine. [CHRIS URSO  |  Times]
    The founder of 4Generations Institute discusses his commitment to children and families.
  9. Miranda Harwood, a fourth-grade math teacher at Brooker Elementary School, is the Hillsborough County Teacher of the Year. [Hillsborough County Public Schools]
    The self-described “data queen” uses humor to keep her students engaged.
  10. This poster was seen January 21 inside a Brandon pet shop owned by All About Puppies, one of two pet retail businesses in Hillsborough County that were granted an exception from county laws prohibiting commercial pet stores from selling animals that came from breeders. [ANASTASIA DAWSON  |  Times]
    The proposed ordinance would ban all commercial pet retailers and impose strict regulations on breeders operating within the county.