Fedcap Rehabilitation provides free culinary training, food handling certification and a small stipend to students with disabilities.
At 11 a.m. on the third floor of a building in Midtown, a commercial kitchen hums. A group of cooks wearing black chef coats methodically chop vegetables next to a stack of wooden pallets loaded with fresh produce.
The scene could be a kitchen gearing up for dinner service or a buzzing incubator, but it’s neither. The folks preparing food are enrolled in the culinary arts program at Fedcap Rehabilitation (or just Fedcap, as it’s called), a nonprofit organization founded in 1935 by and for people with disabilities.
Originally founded in New York City as the Federation of the Crippled and Disabled, today’s Fedcap now also operates in parts of New Jersey and Washington, DC, and serves anyone with a physical or mental limitation that, as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), hinders “major life activities.” This includes people with a history of disability who may not currently be disabled, and the ADA does not specifically name all of the qualifying impairments.
The culinary arts program was founded in 2000 to provide free culinary training, food handling certification and a small stipend to students in a nurturing environment where they can develop professional skills and build confidence without fear of harassment or discrimination. This type of vocational training isn’t unique to Fedcap Rehabilitation, but given the structural barriers for the individuals they serve, the diligence of Fedcap’s work stands out: 486 students have graduated from the program with a 72 percent rate of successful job placement.
“The smells, the sounds, everything about it—I can lose myself here and I don’t have to think about how I’m depressed. I don’t have to think about my anxiety and paranoia, or if I’m doing anything wrong and people are watching me,” says Jonathan Colon, a 28-year-old Bronx native who came to the program in early 2018 on his therapist’s recommendation. Working in the kitchen has been “more therapeutic than anything else I’ve done,” he tells me.