Local chef DeWitt Jackson is thankful -- and not just at Thanksgiving.
Jackson, executive chef for the Indianapolis Colts, said that after seven seasons with the team, he's still grateful for the Second Helpings program and resulting opportunity to serve up three meals a day to hungry NFL football players.
"I just take care of them," Jackson said.
It's a job that doesn't go unnoticed -- even by the front office. Colts president Bill Polian said the team appreciates Jackson's daily efforts. "DeWitt has served the club for years," said Polian, "and our players and staff value and appreciate his contributions."
Taking care of the nutritional needs of elite NFL players is a long way from the dish room of a local hospital, where Jackson started his culinary career more than 15 years ago. He still marvels about where his work has taken him and hopes his experience will encourage others.
"If it can happen for me," said Jackson, "it can happen for anybody."
The 49-year-old Indianapolis native had always been interested in cooking -- in fact his father was a chef -- and his ambition and ability soon took him out of the dish room at Riley Hospital for Children to the position of cook's assistant and then onto the line as a grill cook.
But he was married with a family, and the position simply didn't pay enough, said Jackson, so he took a job outside the food industry.
"A job opportunity came along at Carrier," said Jackson. "I wasn't liking it very much, but it was paying the bills."
One night, Jackson recalled, he saw a TV commercial for Second Helpings, the local food rescue organization that also has a culinary training program for unemployed and underemployed adults.
"I said to my wife, 'I'm going there tomorrow,' " Jackson said. "I had a good job, but it wasn't the job I wanted."
To advance in the food industry, Jackson knew he needed training. He persuaded local chef Sam Brown, director of training at the time and a Second Helpings graduate himself, to let him into the program.
"I liked cooking, but I needed to have more confidence, to have the right foundation," Jackson said.
Brown, who is now executive chef and director of nutritional services at Fairbanks Hospital, said he knew Jackson would succeed. "It was apparent right from the beginning that he had the skills he needed to be successful," said Brown. "He just needed the opportunity."
Jackson's experience offers the perfect example of what Second Helpings graduates can achieve, said Ben Shine, the organization's communications and development manager. "He's one of our big shining stars," he said.
After graduating from Second Helpings, Jackson was working at the former Adam's Mark hotel when a call came from the Colts.
Read the rest of Chef Jackson's story here.