SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio Food Bank has shown that it is more than just a place to collect and deliver food and meals to those in need in San Antonio and South Texas.
Not only does it feed 58,000 mouths every week, it is also a place where people can volunteer to help feed the hungry by putting those meals together.
Throughout the years, the Food Bank has built on that concept. It is now conducting classes that teach folks how to cook and prepare meals to increase healthy eating.
It has taken that idea a couple of steps further with an 18-week free culinary course. It also has another culinary course, strictly for those who are incarcerated and are looking for a second chance in the culinary field when they are released, like Milas Williams.
Williams is a chef and front line cook at the San Antonio Alamo Biscuit Company and Panaderia, and he credits the Food Bank for being where he is today.
“I credit them before I credit anybody else, because the San Antonio Food Bank gave me my foundation,” Williams said.
When Williams was 19 he was convicted of aggravated robbery and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
“My first five years, you got to learn prison, learn how it goes in here -- the ins and outs, what to do not to get in trouble, what to do to make it home, what to do to make it alive,” Williams said.
After being in prison for five years, he was allowed to start working on his future. He decided since he loved to cook as a kid, he would pursue the culinary arts.
Williams was transferred to several different prisons over the years. One of the facilities actually had a commercial-type kitchen where he took a class.
He eventually ended up closer to home in San Antonio, and because of his standing and attitude about keeping his life on the straight and narrow, he was awarded with the opportunity to be one of seven enrolled in the Food Bank Second Chance culinary program.
"The San Antonio Food Bank opened their arms and their hearts to all of us,” Williams said.
While he was attending class, one of the projects was to make meals for the Boys & Girls Club on the East Side. One of the visits sparked an emotional memory.
“I was one of those children who used to eat the meals. Now, here I am, regardless of the situation, regardless of the circumstances, I am making the meals,” Williams said. “ I feel chills. I feel like I am going to cry. I literally cried right there.”
Williams passed the class, and then a few months later, after serving 15 years in prison, he was released.
He went right to San Antonio’s world famous Chef Johnny Hernandez, whom he had met while in class at the Food Bank. Hernandez gave him his first job.
Williams went back to school at St. Philips College and continues his cooking education to this day.
He said he is not afraid to admit where he has been because he knows who he is now and where he is headed.
“You always remember who you used to be and where you’re going to go, and so with that, I don't regret (anything). I’m remorseful but don't regret it because it made me who I am,” Williams said.
He's become a success around the kitchen, he said, thanks to the Food Bank and his early love of cooking.
Williams said looking back, his mom, who was from Louisiana, really gave him his first lesson. She wasn’t sure about him using her spices and utensils and even giving up her secret recipes, until he proved himself.
It took 20 years, but last year he helped with Thanksgiving dinner and that was enough for mom.
“I got the seal of approval last year,” Williams said.
In more ways than one.