Big gift to Lotus House leads to a culinary center at the Miami women’s homeless shelter

Once-homeless women will soon be training for jobs in the restaurant and hospitality industry, thanks to a multi-year, multimillion-dollar pledge from a Miami-born entrepreneur.

When David Centner and his family moved to Miami from New York about 18 months ago, he and his wife Leila looked for charitable opportunities that aligned with their focus: helping women and children through sustainable programs. The culinary training program at Lotus House Women’s Shelter, for women and children experiencing homelessness, was the right fit.
“We heard about Lotus Village and fell in love with it,” he said. “We’re not the types who just write out a check; we like to be intentional with philanthropy. We learned they have a fully equipped kitchen with the goal of helping women transition into careers. It
Thursday, the David and Leila Centner Culinary Center at Overtown’s Lotus House Women’s Shelter will serve the first of a half-million annual meals to Lotus Village residents. In the process, the center will also offer nutritional education, menu planning, food preparation and safety for the 400-500 women and their children in residence at the transition facility.

“This gift is life-changing for the women and children we shelter,” said Lotus House founder and executive director Constance Collins. “Knowledge is power. This gift seeds the culinary center. It doesn’t just feed the shelter, it feeds minds. It empowers women to develop a new skill base, job readiness, work experience, references … it really empowers them to enter the work world and succeed.”

While the farm-to-table food movement has been embraced by restaurants and households nationwide, institutions on tight budgets— such as homeless shelters — tend to be filling but low in nutrition, said Collins. Lotus House — now a campus of buildings known as Lotus Village — is seeking to change that through the new culinary center and through existing partnerships with firms including Hungry Harvest, Hammock Greens, Zak the Baker, Bunnie Cakes and Goya. Its facilities include a rooftop garden of vegetables and herbs.

The Centners’ gift to the Lotus Endowment Fund will provide funding for the program into the future.

“The hearth is the heart of the home,” said Collins. “I see the culinary center as heart of Lotus Village….I see this gift as the backbone, as the underlying foundation, particularly of the educational and job-readiness program.”

Lotus House seeks to empower homeless women through counseling, education, job training and enrichment. Though it has the physical capacity for 500 women and children, plus infants, Lotus Village currently serves only 400 due to tight government funding, Collins said.

Centner, who attended Miami Central High and Wharton, founded his most recent firm, Highway Toll Administration, in 2002 to facilitate digital toll payments for fleet vehicles. He and his wife, Leila, the company’s chief financial officer, sold the company earlier this year.

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