Jaqueline Willard

In 2018, I found myself in the darkest times without a home on the streets of Miami, looking for help through the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust System; I stumbled upon Lotus House Shelter , a women’s shelter that would become my lifeline. From the moment I stepped through its doors, I knew this place was different—it wasn’t just a roof over my head but a beacon of hope in my most challenging times.

As I settled into my new surroundings, I was drawn to the kitchen. It started with volunteering, a way to give back to the community that had welcomed me with open arms. But as I chopped vegetables and stirred pots, I discovered a passion for cooking. It became my solace, a refuge from the uncertainties of life on the streets. With my background in kitchens from my teenage years, I quickly found my footing in the kitchen. What began as a volunteer gig soon turned into an internship, and before I knew it, I was offered a full-time position as a supervisor.

Today, as the kitchen manager at Lotus House Shelter, I oversee the preparation of three meals daily for the shelter residents and an additional three meals for those living on the streets. But my role goes beyond just cooking—I see the kitchen as a place of
healing for myself and others. There’s something therapeutic about creating a meal, knowing that each dish I prepare comforts someone in need.

One of the most rewarding parts of my job is the gratitude I receive from those I serve. Whether it’s a simple thank you or a heartfelt compliment about a dish, I know that my efforts are making a difference in the lives of others. And for me, that’s all about—bringing warmth and nourishment to those who need it most.

I am filled with gratitude for the opportunity I’ve been given to turn my life around. Through hard work and determination, I have found stability and become a light of hope for others facing similar struggles. I realized that food made with love, regardless of wherever you are, has the power to make you feel at home.