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South Bend caterer expands business and feeds hungry

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Laquisha Jackson always knew she wanted to work with food. One of thirteen children, Jackson often found herself in the kitchen, working under her grandmother to ensure everyone had food on the table – a job that she said was not always the easiest.

“Cooking came from within. I have been cooking since I was 7 or 8. I worked in kitchens for 19 years until I started my own food business,” said Jackson.

Laquisha Jackson (Photo/Laquisha Jackson

In 2018 Jackson started Soulful Kitchen, a gourmet southern comfort food catering company, and it has grown in both customer base and square footage since its humble beginning, Jackson said. Now a preferred caterer for places such as Notre Dame and St. Mary’s college, Jackson maintains that things were not always this way, and she had to work diligently to be able to expand her business.

“We started with nothing. All of this came later,” said Jackson, whose knowledge in the kitchen did not always translate to the business side of the catering company.

Starting her catering business after leaving her 16-year kitchen position, Jackson became a sponge, eager to understand how to run a business and learn what she needed to do to make a difference.

“I knew how to cook, but I didn’t know anything about the administrative work. I started working with social media and feeding my friends and family. It grew from there,” said Jackson.

While she continued to work on expanding her business, Jackson also pursued her passion for feeding the hungry. Stemming from her own personal experiences with food insecurity, Jackson started Hope for the Hungry in 2020 to help her local community have access to fresh food and hot meals.

“I remember walking with my grandmother to get food assistance. I had a dream of feeding those in need, prior to that I would cater to the homeless with sponsors – give them free hot meals and get to experience finer dining,” said Jackson.

Aiming to inspire those around her, Jackson draws from her grandmother, who she says was her inspiration for both the catering business and the nonprofit.

“My grandma is my biggest inspiration. From the ages of nine to 14, it was a critical time. We faced a lot of hardships,” said Jackson, who continues to look toward the future for all her endeavors.

Jackson’s nonprofit has, in parallel to her catering business, expanded significantly since its start. Hope for the Hungry now includes pop-up pantries, an in-house shopping experience with fresh produce, meals provided to the homeless every day of the week, and a getting-ahead class to help those in poverty.

“I think my efforts inspire those who come from the same frame of mind as me. We were once on the same side of the fence. I remember going to pick up food for the hungry in a broken-down vehicle. I think seeing us gives everyone hope,” said Jackson.

Sharon Vaughn, a service coordinator for La Salle Park Homes, managed by Bradley Co., plans to work with Jackson to establish several mobile pantries in the coming months, and wants the community to know what an impact Jackson’s efforts are making in her area.

“I reached out to her when I recognized that she had such a passion for working with people with food insecurities. She came out, she had a plan, and she executed that plan. It’s so powerful. She’s so transparent. She is telling her story to allow others to feel seen,” said Vaughn.

With a planned expansion of Soulful Kitchen to central Indiana, Jackson hopes to be able to both spread awareness of food insecurity, and to extend the borders of Indiana.

“We want to expand beyond South Bend. We definitely want to get into other areas. I would love to spread awareness and be able to speak to everyone about these issues. I’m hoping people would hear, and people would listen,” said Jackson. Contact Staff Writer Hanna Rauworth at 317.762.7854 or follow her at @hanna.rauworth

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