Job training and feeding the needy? Here’s how this award-winning local program does both

A collaborative Montgomery County response to a truck driver shortage, a dearth of good-paying jobs and food insecurity has been recognized by a state organization focused community improvement.

The Trucks and Tomatoes Job Training and Urban Garden Enhancement Project received the President’s Award for Innovative Practices at the 2018 Ohio Conference of Community Development annual meeting last week. For it, several organizations have partnered to provide instruction toward becoming a licensed truck driver, allow practice in an area that was once a community garden and provide funds to lease that former garden space that are used to feed needy families.

“The Trucks and Tomatoes project started with a goal of providing life-changing CDL (Commercial Driver’s License) credentials to low-income and unemployed individuals, and it quite literally grew into so much more,” said Montgomery County Commissioner Judy Dodge. “We are investing in people through partnerships that provide critical training, jobs and food in our community.”

RELATED: High demand for truck drivers leads to new CDL training in Dayton

Since July of last year, 22 people have successfully completed the program, which partners Butler Technology and Career Development Schools, Central State University-Dayton, The Foodbank and Montgomery County.

Butler Tech oversees the instruction of the five-week course while Central State University-Dayton provides classroom space. The county helped The Foodbank relocate a community garden, opening up the driving pad where students train. Butler Tech pays The Foodbank for use of the pad. The $6,000 annual lease provides 24,000 meals for needy families in the Dayton region.

“Beyond the candidates who successfully complete the program, it is a way for us to support our community organizations that are making a difference in the Dayton region,” said Michael Norton-Smith, a county community and economic development specialist.

RELATED: Foodbank creates urban garden to provide more fresh produce to clients

More than 50,000 commercial driving positions are unfilled nationally, according to the American Trucking Associations. That scarcity is felt acutely in Montgomery County, where investment in logistics infrastructure has topped $1 billion since 2013, said Garth McLean, a county workforce manager.

“In the Dayton region — Montgomery County specifically — the need is great for our logistics companies,” he said.

McLean said the five-week CDL licensure program can quickly turn around the fortunes of participants and have lasting benefits for communities.

“They go into a pay range that brings them into self-sufficiency and really changes their family and the way they go about being a part of the community,” he said.

Michelle Riley, The Foodbank CEO, said the partnership helps “shorten the line by providing jobs that pay a sustainable wage.”

MORE: Urban farm in Dayton offers hope for food deserts

Trucks and Tomatoes graduates can expect multiple job offers at pay ranging from $14-$23 an hour, said Kathy Black, a Montgomery County business operations analyst. The placement rate tops 80 percent, according to officials.

The county put about $123,000 into the program.

“Partnering with Central State University’s Dayton campus has allowed us to position training in the middle of Montgomery County, making it very accessible for our citizens,” McLean said.

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