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Wildflour Cafe imparts culinary skills to workers with special needs

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Wildflour — a catering company with a cafe and bakery storefront in Chantilly — has a secret ingredient to its success: it welcomes people with special needs who have a passion to cook.

“I do a lot of things here: serve customers, clean up and prepare food,” said Frank Stevens, a Wildflour employee.

With the stage presence of an actor, he gives a full tour of the company where he works, interacting with a wide array of people.

“Now I’m going to show you the kitchen — and all of my friends,” he said before giving a brotherly hug and posing with a worker preparing greens for the salad bar. “This is my best friend of all, Chester Frederick III.”

For Alberto Figueiredo Sangiorgio, the manager, what makes Stevens and 40 of his coworkers who have special needs “special” is their generosity of heart.

“At the end of the day, I sit in my car and say, ‘These kids are incredible. They are unbelievable.

They trust you. They love you. They are very straight. They are the most honest people that you will ever meet,” he said.

Recognizing the intrinsic talents of his workforce, Sangiorgio walks around the kitchen making sure that people are staying on task — and offering encouragement along the way.

“These kids don’t always get the opportunity to work, but here at Wildflour they get a chance to,” he said.

Wildflour’s catering clientele includes the Diocese of Arlington, and Sangiorgio has a possible contract with Amazon in the works. He is excited about a program that gives his workers the skills to become chefs.

“The assistant chefs participate in this program where for three years they learn absolutely everything about cooking. In the process, they are learning skills every day that will help them survive in the jungle out there that is life,” he said.

In addition to catering, Wildflour also makes dog biscuits as well as jewelry. Sangiorgio credits Megan Mundy, a graduate of St. Paul VI High School in Fairfax, with consistently crafting jewelry of a very high caliber.

“Just look at the fine detail,” he said, marveling at the red, white and blue beads that she wove into a bracelet for the Fourth of July.

For many of the staffers, they are simply grateful for the opportunity to work.

“I enjoy my work,” said Melissa Castellanos. “It is great to be with my friends. I work hard, too.” 

And Philip Keeffe, who rolls the dough used for the dog biscuits, took pride in his productivity. 

“I am going to make 10 containers of dog biscuits,” Keefe said with a smile.

Leo Alonso, president of Porto Charities, sums up the Wildflour spirit as one of welcome.

“At Wildflour, you have more than 40 young adults working with all their friends. It’s a very happy place. They cater all of our Porto Charities functions,” Alonso said. “They’re happy to go to work. What else can we ask for regarding our young adults with disabilities than for them to have a place of employment where they are happy and earning money and getting a paycheck.”

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019