Foodbank cooking student sees bright future ahead

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- The Lowcountry Food Bank has a culinary program that helps feed hungry seniors and children while teaching students a valuable skill. Standing in that commercial kitchen, one man finally sees a bright future for himself.

"It's one of the places I feel most comfortable," said Byron Washington, one of the Lowcountry Food Bank's apprentices.

Comfortable is not a word Washington is used to using to describe his world before cooking lit a fire inside him.

"Some of my personal struggles were drugs, prison, gangs, just a horrible lifestyle, you know," he said.

Washington knew he needed a fresh start.

"I was getting close to the age of 30 and I just didn't want to see my life go down the drain," he said.

So Washington connected with the Lowcountry Food Bank's Food Works program through South Carolina Strong, an organization that helps change lives.

"One of the things that struck my right away in the first week after class was over, at the end of the day he walked into my office and looked at me and said, 'Chef, I really want you to push me,'" said Executive Chef Kim Ortego.

Ortega says she has watch student after student change before her eyes, and she knew Washington was going to be another great success story.

"They come in and always show this willingness to want to get better," she said. "One thing that I always express to them is the potential that they see for themselves is nothing compared to the potential that we see in them."

Just as any good teacher has faith in her students, Washington has been equally committed to turning this training into a full-fledged career.

"I want my life to mean something, so I'm going to be a chef," he said. "There is life passing people by out there and I refuse to be that person."