Wil Ayotte has been employed part time at Porchlight Products for four years. He prepares sauerkraut, deep cleans the kitchen floors and helps with any other tasks assigned to him.

“Porchlight was good to me,” said Ayotte. “And I want to be good to them back.” 

As a divorced veteran, he says he would have been homeless without the help of Porchlight, Inc. of Madison when he came to Madison in 2013. By using Porchlight’s employment and housing services, today he lives in his own apartment, works two jobs and is working towards a second associate degree.

As one of the largest housing services in Dane County — serving 8,000 people every year — Porchlight offers emergency shelter, transitional housing, permanent housing, mental health services and employment. This Tuesday, Feb. 19, Porchlight is hosting the 2019 Chef’s Tasting, the organization’s second largest fundraiser. During the event, 13 area chefs from local restaurants volunteer to create dishes using exclusively hand-crafted Porchlight Products by current employees in the training program.

Porchlight Products, where Ayotte works, is a training program within Porchlight teaching employees job skills like how to use a time card or how to write a resume. The employees also gain new skills in the kitchen like chopping, fermentation, canning and cleaning.

Porchlight Products became a part of the larger organization in 2007. Twenty-eight housing units are attached to the headquarters on Thierer Road in Madison along with a large industrial kitchen.

Employees are referred to Porchlight Products through a case manager and all have been homeless or have a disability, says Melissa Guth, the director of kitchen operations. The largest part of Porchlight Products budget, which is based solely on donations and small grants, goes to paying employees and buying food ingredients from local farmers.  

“We do not do this to make a profit, we do this for the training,” Guth says. “All the profits we make from selling the products goes right back into the programing.”

Employees are able to adjust their schedules based on their individuals needs like needing to pick up medication.

“It’s unique in offering the flexibility that the individuals need without the threat of losing their job,” says Guth. “For a lot of them just making it here for their shift is an incredible feat.” 

Guth says the Porchlight Products program offers employees purpose, in addition to income and resources. And although everyone is trained on multiple tasks, employees find their special niche. Ayotte’s specialty is sauerkraut. Last summer, he prepared 838 pounds of sauerkraut for the Memorial Union Terrace brat stands. 

Porchlight supplies house-made dilly beans, pancake mix, scone mix and other products to 17 stores in the Madison area. Restaurants also purchase products and create one-of-a-kind dishes like Daisy Cafe & Cupcakery’s famous pancakes.

During the 2019 Chef’s Tasting, the participating restaurants, including Graft, Quivey’s Grove, Johnny Delmonico’s Steakhouse, Belair Cantina, Blue Plate Catering and Karben4 Brewing, will be preparing dishes and guests receive unlimited samples at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery. Along with live music and silent auction. Guth will sell individual Porchlight products. 

For more information and to buy tickets click here.

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