Homewood's Jeff Goldfarb, also known as the "World's Tallest Chef," is no stranger to charity work. He's been featured on H-F Patch before for his efforts to encourage healthy eating in Chicago Public Schools students, and now he's begun to work as a full-time volunteer with the South Suburban PADS, or Public Action to Deliver Shelter, organization.
"This is the direction my career is going into, is volunteering for PADS," Goldfarb said. "I'm hoping to create something big."
More specifically, Goldfarb is working with the organization's latest endeavor, the Country Club Hills Wellness Center at 167th Street and Pulaski, a facility consisting of 77 studio apartments for homeless families to live in while they work to get back on their feet.
"I would describe the Country Club Hills Wellness Center as a hub of activity," Goldfarb said. "A place of excitement, a place where people can go and learn job skills and social activities. they can come there to learn how to become a cook or a chef."
Goldfarb said the center was more like a hotel than a homeless shelter, listing off amenities including one and two-bedroom studio apartments, a playground for children, a computer center, laundry, bus transportation, and, perhaps most important to the chef, a commercial culinary kitchen.
That kitchen is essential to more than just Goldfarb's role as chef for the Wellness Center. He is developing a culinary arts education program to teach the center's residents the necessary skills to not only land entry-level cooking jobs, but to improve and earn promotions and turn those jobs into careers.
"We're going to give them all the tools they need to become an entry-level cook or chef," Goldfarb said. "We're just going to teach them. If they come in, and they listen, and they learn, and put 120 percent into this program, they're going to get so much out of it. They might start out at a low-level salary, but they can get benefits. They could have potential for getting increases and promoted quickly. It depends on how they do. It's all up to the people."
Goldfarb said that Mike Wasserberg, the executive director of South Suburban PADS, gave him virtually unlimited freedom to design the kitchen and the curriculum as he sees fit.
There's currently $8,000 worth of donated culinary equipment set up in the kitchen, with another $2,000 worth at Goldfarb's home ready to be brought over there and set up. He got 50 celebrity chefs to sign their cookbooks and send them to him to create a cookbook collection for the center's kitchen, and he's currently looking for a donor to provide a bookshelf to hold them all.
One of his goals for the program is to someday see his graduates use the skills they learn to give back to the south suburban communities.
"Maybe one of the graduates will open up a breakfast restaurant in Homewood," he said. "Or another one will open up a bakery in Harvey or someone else will open a place in Country Club Hills, to make the South Suburbs bigger and more prosperous."
Residents began moving into the Wellness Center this week. Goldfarb said anybody who wants to see the new facility can take a tour, but he advised people to call ahead of time to make an appointment.