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Program Will Offer Catering Training

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Gina Mirabella knows what it’s like to be in need.

The Lithuanian native fashioned a lucrative business career and comfortable lifestyle in the United States, which included a Porsche sports car and a home in Palos Verdes Estates, before her marriage broke up and bad investments left her with nothing.

“All of a sudden I found myself homeless and penniless and at MEND’s [Meeting Each Need with Dignity] door asking for help,” she said Monday during a luncheon at the Pacoima social services agency.

Mirabella, who has since remarried and put her life in order, is now the food director at MEND and the driving force behind a new program to train the agency’s clients to work in the catering business.

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“I was helped by MEND, and I stayed on as a volunteer, as do many of the recipients,” Mirabella said. “I consider it my family.”

Monday’s luncheon, sponsored by Kaiser Permanente and Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and attended by nearly 100 representatives from other service agencies and local businesses, served as an opportunity for MEND officials to showcase the merits of the catering service and seek support for its varied programs.

MEND, which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year, provides food, clothing, medical and dental services and job training for needy residents of the northeastern San Fernando Valley.

“The whole idea of MEND is to give people an opportunity to pull people up by their bootstraps and be an asset to society,” said MEND board chairman Steve Brown, a Valley businessman.

It was that philosophy that led to the catering program, said Marianne Hill, MEND’s executive director.

“A lot of the women involved in this didn’t have any formal training, but they’re good cooks,” Hill said. “Our plan is to get them some formalized training. We’ll have them cater events here and then hopefully branch out into the community, perhaps for other service agencies and charities.”

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