TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) – You may know Chef Douglas Sutton from his various appearances during cooking segments on WCTV over the years, but the chef also serves a greater purpose.
Sutton started working as the food services director at the Kearney Center about two weeks ago, and he says he saw an exhausted team that was understaffed and overburdened from the coronavirus pandemic.
WCTV morning reporter Michelle Roberts went inside the kitchen to see how Sutton, with community support, is determined to serve quality meals and strengthen the community’s most vulnerable population.
“We’re really fighting through those challenges,” Sutton says. “My sous chef was working from 5:30 to 8 on weekends, and there was a stretch he did that for 14 days.”
Blending boxes of donated ingredients into culinary creations, the Kearney Center serves an average of 380 to 420 plates per day.
“Something that is sensible but healthy for them as well,” Sutton says. “This is a rehabilitation center and our part in the play is to help them to rehab through food.”
Local businesses, farmers and residents are filling a growing need.
“Big D BBQ gave hot dogs, hamburgers and soda. It was really cool to see them come to prepare the food and serve the food as well,” Sutton says.
The Kearney Center’s director of operations, Vicki Butler, says they’re housing 250 clients a night, which is more than ever before. They say they’re seeing more people partially because of recent rent increases.
“Small places that we’ve worked with in the past, that we’ve actually been successful in getting people housed, has displaced a lot of people, 40 from one apartment complex alone. And there’s been no one to fill that gap,” Butler says.
As the center tackles that concern, the kitchen is stretching portions.
“Really above and beyond the call of duty to make sure the food is hot and fresh,” Sutton says.
Chef Sutton uses his passion to prepare meals for those who need them the most.
“A lot of people ask me ‘Chief Douglas, what are you going to do? Are you going to open your own restaurant?’ but honestly, a lot of those different entities are about me. And I love coming in here and giving my talents, my resources, my education to something bigger than me. It’s bigger than me, and I love it.”
To join Chief Sutton’s mission, you can call ahead, then drop off items at the Kearney Center. The food needed most right now include fresh fruits and vegetables, butter and bread.
Other donations the center is looking for are clothes and twin beddings.
You can reach the center at 850-792-9000.
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