John Tumino, founder of In My Father’s Kitchen joins Matt Masur on Growth Mode Conversations to talk about the amazing work his organization does to help feel the least fortunate of us.

Learn more at

Computer Generated Text Transcript:

In My Father’s Kitchen – Growth Mode Conversations

Matt Masur: Hello and welcome to the Growth Mode Conversations podcast. I’m your host, Matt Masur, the founder of Growth Mode Technologies, your local IT department. And in a few minutes, you’re about to hear me interview a very interesting member of the community. Could be a business owner, could be an influencer, could be some guy off the street.

You’re going to have to stick around to find out.

But first, let’s talk a little bit about our company, GrowthMode Technologies, your local IT department. We’re a business to business technology services company that exists to make local businesses better using technology. We’re not your traditional break fix, only show up when something’s wrong type of IT services company.

We are a true technology partner that’s dedicated to making your business better, because we understand that our business only grows when yours does. If you’re interested in learning about how to make yourself better and potentially even save some money in the process, visit our website at localitdepartment.

com. And now, without further ado, let’s jump into the interview. Hey, folks. Welcome back to the growth mode conversations podcast. I got an awesome guy here.

This guy does some, some really interesting and, and needed, I guess I would say almost unfortunately needed, but needed services in the community. But as we do on the show. I’d like to let the guests introduce themselves, so please, sir, tell us who you are, what do you do?

John: All right. Hi. Thanks, Matt.

Thanks for having me on the show.

Matt Masur: Absolutely.

John: So I’m John Tamino. I’m the co founder of In My Father’s Kitchen. I’m also the executive director, and In My Father’s Kitchen is a not for profit. That I started that engages the chronically homeless of central New York. These are folks that are living in places not meant for human habitation.

That’s my group. In the woods, abandoned houses, in a shack, under a bridge. We go to these individuals with direct services. So we’re bringing, whether it’s food, supplies, medical attention, and then connections to service providers within our community. So we’re kind of like the connecting piece for friends.

We call them friends that are outdoors trying to get connected to services.

Matt Masur: Oh, wow. So you, you go right out into these different places you described, I’m guessing, to to find these folks, to meet them and things of that nature?

John: Yeah. So it all started in 2011 when I had an encounter with an individual standing on an off ramp holding a cardboard sign.

I was running a successful restaurant in central New York. I also wear a spiritual component to my life. I’m a clergy as well. So it’s kind of a place where my faith intersected with my natural vocation as a chef. And I had this encounter with a guy holding a sign and he, I told him he wasn’t invisible.

I gave him a lunch and he started to unpack his life story to me on an off ramp for 20 minutes. And I left that encounter a changed person and left Restaurant World behind to start this not for profit with my wife and started it out of our house. Wow. And it’s all because I heard a guy’s story and I heard the story behind the cardboard sign and it impacted me and I felt like I needed to do something.

Matt Masur: That’s incredible. In my father’s kitchen, the name of the organization obviously implies there’s a lot of food involved here. So tell us a little bit more about, you know, what you do and how you serve these folks like that.

John: Yeah, so I’m gonna go way back. So I’m a first generation American. My parents were immigrants to the country in 1963.

Wow. So food was always really instrumental in my background, different kinds of foods. And I realized as a young man that food was a powerful tool to make friends. Sure. So a lot of my friends would want to come over to my house to eat these wonderful different kinds of meals. And so I used food my whole life, whether it was in the restaurant world to make connections with people, to gain customers.

And now we’re using food, me as a chef, and using that talent to bring out ratcheted up meals to folks living outside. So steak sandwiches, linguine alfredo, stuff like that. Pepper, lasagnas, things that individuals that are living outside aren’t going to get. And it’s about bringing value and dignity through food.

Matt Masur: Sure.

John: And so food is just a vehicle that I use to make the introduction and start to build a relationship.

Matt Masur: Okay. Yeah. So you mentioned you started at home. I’m, I’m guessing that alludes to you. You’ve grown out of your home now, right?

John: So 12 years ago. So when I left that encounter, I go home and I say to my wife, I think I know what we’re supposed to do.

And then I just felt like, well, how am I going to do this? And I just felt like, just use what you have in your hands. I had a kitchen in my house. I had a car. And then I had talent as a chef. So we started doing it the next week. And now here we are 12 years later, staff of 14. We have a piece of property where our office space is on Holly Ave.

Wow. And we’re out there every day doing the work.

Matt Masur: So your staff, are they what are they doing for you? Are they cooking as well? Are they doing the outreach, all of the above? Yeah, that’s

John: a great question. So for me, that scratched my itch as a chef. That’s my kind of little thing that gives me, like, feeling like purpose in regards to my calling.

So I do all the cooking on the days that we do street outreach. Today we have a work van called Higher Ground that’s out. As we’re speaking, there’s nine individuals on a day labor program that we started with the county of Onondaga. So we have nine folks that aren’t panhandling today. They’re actually working for their keep.

They get compensated at the end of the day. There’s three staffers on that van two care managers and the driver who’s the supervisor of the project that day. And then on street outreaches, we have Tuesdays and Thursdays, we have two care managers that go out to the streets. And we do follow up care based on our engagement that we have with the folks under bridges.

And then the last group of staffers, there’s about eight of them, and we have a house called Life House that we help women escaping human trafficking. So we have two women residing in a home that we have and there’s staff 24 7. So there’s a staff of eight there.

Matt Masur: That’s really incredible. Hi, obviously you’ve got a bunch of these different things different programs and things that have evolved.

I’m guessing from the original mission What I guess what came first beyond that just initial outreach, you know some of these different things that

John: yes So one of the amazing things that like when I started doing this you got a guy who’s just an entrepreneur Running a restaurant all of a sudden now I’m doing social work, right?

Yeah, and so I had to learn and navigate the landscape. In the very beginning, no one knew who we were. We had no connections to anybody in the community until we lost our first individual. Michelle was murdered on an off ramp by dinosaur barbecue. She was beat up and found dead. And that story was put in the paper and connected us to that woman and that kind of took the cover off of what we do.

to the community. And then we got invited, now we’re part of the Homeless and Housing Coalition of Central New York. There’s 50 providers in that coalition. We’re the outreach component of it, as well as rescue mission. And so for me, it’s now been gaining, like, connections and networking. Kind of like, just finding out how the landscape looks and then helping our friends get connected to that.

Matt Masur: Okay. So that kind of leads right into the next thing I was going to ask you. Is that how does your organization work, combine, you know, get along with all these other community organizations that, Sort of serve different pieces of that community.

John: Yeah, so the wonderful it’s the housing homes coalition of Central, New York I

Matt Masur: didn’t realize there was actually an organization Organizations and there’s

John: a monthly meeting of all those providers, but then there’s sub meetings like the outreach component There’s like a coordinated entry component component.

There’s different subgroups, right? So for how it works is we’re the outreach component of it And we, all we do is like make the referrals, so we build this rapport with our friends outside. We call them friends, not clients. We get them to trust us, tell us their story, and then we try to encourage them and help them navigate to whether it’s substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment, getting into housing.

If they agree to go down the housing route, there’s like a packet that we need to do of an intake form, and that gets them ready, paperwork ready, to get onto a list for housing, and then we present that to the coalition. So we’re like this nuts and bolts, like straight on the ground, boots on the ground outreach.

Matt Masur: So all these organizations, they’re not In any way, really in competition with each other. You’re all kind of working in concert. You’re different pieces that you can bring to the table.

John: Yeah. Collaboration is huge. Right. So we do what we do. Well, that’s the outreach part of it. I’m not the housing guy, so I’m going to connect it to the housing provider, but I have to have that relationship with the provider as well.

So, yeah, we just do what we do. Well,

Matt Masur: wow. Tell me a little bit about that, that actual work. So how are you received? in these communities, or at least initially anyway, I guess, when you first find a spot where there’s, folks are camping out.

John: Yeah. So, well, now it’s 12 years, we got street cred, we are, and now we’re getting referrals from some homeless friends to other homeless friends, right?

But in the very beginning, I call a first contact, you don’t know me, I don’t know you, we kind of come up on you, but I have this wonderful meal. So the meal, Is really, I’ve never had, have had anyone say no, I don’t want it because of the fact of what we’re bringing and when I open up the container, you got a lasagna in there.

Sure. And then if I just go off the It’s hard to be, it’s hard to be angry with somebody like that, right? Yeah. But if you don’t open, like I might give you the lasagna and then I notice that that you’re quiet and you’re not talking. I’m not going to force an issue because I know I’m going to see you again.

So it’s consistency over time. So it’s just, Hey man, here’s who we are. This is what we do. Here’s the lunch for ya. You know, I got some supplies for if you need it, like hand wipes, you know, hand warmers, gloves, hats, all that stuff. And then they’ll take those things and then I’ll see him again in a couple of days and then we just go from there.

And then as the relationship goes, the guard goes down. Sure. When we hear the story,

Matt Masur: you just build that rapport and they know that you’re Trustworthy and, and, you know, not out to get them what what do you think out of all the things that you or even the other organizations do? What, what is the most effective?

What’s the thing that actually you think if you could pick one thing to really double down on out of all these efforts, what would generally help them the most?

John: the relationship. Like, so that’s why we use the word friends. So like, we, we really commit to them understanding that we’re really there for them, like in building trust with them.

And that only happens by building this relationship. Right. So it’s kind of like in business, you build relationships with your clients. They keep coming back to you because they trust you. Right. That’s how we do it on the street. Like I’m bringing my customer service skillset that I learned in restaurant world, and I’m a kind of applying it into human services realm.

And and our friends outside, they know when someone’s legit, you know when someone’s BSing you or not. And we’re just truthful with them and we don’t hold punches, it’s like we’re doing straight talk with them, and they honor that, we honor them, and next thing you know the relationship flourishes and change happens.

Matt Masur: Wow. For folks that aren’t in depth in this world and really understanding it. Can you explain a little bit about, about, you know, why are some of these folks even there? Why are they in this position?

John: That’s a great question. So because a lot of people have disdain towards folks that are homeless and addicts and things of that nature.

So one of the things that I’ve learned over the years in regards to the stories is trauma, a lot of childhood trauma, things that have happened in people’s pasts that go unresolved. And then they’re looking to escape that feeling, whether it’s anxiety, depression, and some, then they cross over into the drug world, right?

It might start up with a low level thing like weed, and next thing you know, it’s crack, and next thing you know, they’re shooting a needle of heroin. And now They’re off to the races and they’re addicted. Once the substances get inside of you, then it’s just, people don’t understand. You just can’t quit.

Like you, you just can’t stop when you’ve got something screaming in your body saying I need to fix. Right. And most of our folks outside, it’s not like they’re always getting like high to have fun. It’s just maintaining. So you don’t feel sick, right? So it’s this broken. Psychological thing that’s happening, individuals that cause them to go down this road.

Now, that’s my group. Now, there’s people in shelters, a guy, a husband lost a job, family’s in the shelter, guys trying to bounce back off, off, that’s, that happens. My group is not that. The goal, my group that stays outside is 95 percent addiction, untreated mental health. These are folks that are hardcore broken, right?

And so they won’t even go to shelter. So that’s my group. And that’s the trauma. It’s all about trauma that’s happened in the past and it’s unresolved and they’re trying to medicate themselves.

Matt Masur: So is there you mentioned some of the different resources. Are there some? Some resources that can help them at this point get through those things Yeah, but they got to be willing one of the

John: challenges for us is like I can’t supersede your free will sure a good decision Like I know what you might Matt might need to do, but I can’t make Matt do right So my job is to keep coming keep loving him with a no strings approach until the day of surrender happens I don’t know when that is.

Matt Masur: Yeah

John: Everyone’s different, but I want to be standing there when you finally say, John, I need your help. And it’s only going to happen because you trust us and I didn’t pressure you, right? But we’ve lost, I just got a call last or this morning that one of our friends passed. They found him in the street dead.

And I don’t know the details yet, but he’s number 73, 73 people have died that I’ve met. over the last 12 years in situations of either ODing, getting hit by vehicles, dying in an abandoned house fire, being murdered. You’re very vulnerable living outside. So to me, it’s like, that’s heartbreaking.

Matt Masur: Yeah. Yeah.

That’s, that’s incredible. But that’s also, you know, what, what drives you, I guess, to some degree, right. To, to have less and less of those stories and the

John: fuel in my tank is the death. So I use those, Sad like today I wept right so to me. I use that as like this fuel Like we got this is life and death out.

Yeah, you know, I mean, we gotta keep going. We gotta keep reaching out well, we’ve had 365 folks come off the streets and into housing so there’s success as well, but there’s heartbreak a lot of time Yeah as well.

Matt Masur: Well, it sounds to me though that success number was quite a bit higher than The number of folks who have passed.

John: And then success going in. So you might feel good, right? Yeah. Well, you go, yeah. So getting someone indoors is great, but if they don’t change your behavior, what’s going on outside comes inside. So it’s even navigating them once they’re housed to services too, because we are committed to stay with you six months into your housing.

So you don’t recidivize. And then that’s coaching them and trying to get them to engage providers. So there’s a whole person.

Matt Masur: Wow. We got a couple minutes more. I wanted to I want to hear a little bit more about this work program that you mentioned just briefly. Tell us a little bit about how that goes.

What do they do and that sort of thing? Yeah,

John: so that’s a great question. So one of the things that we learned is when we got folks indoors, they still started panhandling, they still were panhandling because they were still using, right? So they needed money for their substances. So we came, my wife and I was, thinking about how we could help them.

And we thought of a day, like, how do we get them to do, like, work for the day and compensate them and they don’t have to panhandle. And it was like a three year journey. And finally, in partnership with Onondaga County, we got this program launched and it’s called Higher Ground, H I R E, but it’s a play on words, you bring someone higher.

So it’s an alternative to panhandling. And so they’re on the van today and we do community projects, whether it’s state projects, county projects, city projects. Picking up litter, cleaning up at the fairgrounds, cleaning up at the amphitheater, going down to the on center and cleaning up, shoveling sidewalks.

So they get breakfast, they get a lunch, it’s five hours with us, they get paid cash, a stipend at the end of the day, so they got money in their pocket, but now they work for it by the sweat of their brow, the work of their hands, giving them dignity. But the case management that happens in five hours is great.

So I might have a ten minute encounter with you on outreach, but now you’re on this van in a small community for five hours. Lots of conversations and lots of change happens on that van too.

Matt Masur: Wow, that’s, that’s a really neat program. I love that. I love any of those community programs. Honestly, I’ve always thought that that was a great way for all kinds of groups of people just to have that connection with the community, you know, even at all levels just to, you know, I made that park a little nicer, you know, I think that’s a, that’s a great way.

That’s a valuable thing. Well, and

John: it’s even navigating them from that work program to employment. So, like, we’ve gotten 15 people that finally got on track, and we navigated them from the van to employers within the community, right? So, the real thing is to get someone viable again. Like, how do we get you back on the grid?

And it takes time. Sure. It’s a hard work. I can imagine. And it’s a heavy lift, but it’s well worth it.

Matt Masur: That’s awesome. That’s, you’re doing great work. Thanks. I love to hear about that. Appreciate it. Oh, yeah. Tell folks how they can support your work. What’s, what can other people do? Yeah, so the best

John: way you can support us, well, you can visit our website at myfatherskitchen.

org If you feel like you want to financially support us, you can support us with technology like being a reoccurring monthly giver would be awesome or sending in a check to us. You could engage with us by bringing items to us. On Fridays, our storefronts open on Hollie Ave 501 Hollie Ave in Syracuse 13203.

You could drop off items that we’re collecting. Like right now or or or We didn’t really have a winner this year, so we’re starting to transition to spring items. So we’re going to be putting out a plea for like sneakers and jeans and t shirts, so you can bring physical items as well. And every once in a while, we have opportunities for physical volunteering, and that happens at special events, and that could be another way that you connect with us.

Matt Masur: Okay, that’s wonderful. Tell us a little bit more about these meals before we go because I just got it because I think this is cool I really love that. I think you you mentioned it you mentioned, you know, bringing them dignity and I think that’s You know, you think of so many things you think of food banks and in can drives it’s like there’s only so many beans that sure, you might survive but to just to bring up that Mood a little bit what a meal can do for you and a home cooked one.


John: Well, we’re here on a monday morning and the super bowl was yesterday And i’m sure everyone was somewhere with chicken wings and pizza having fun right around food Thanksgiving time food, you know, so food is a big deal. So for me, it’s like planning a menu the night before, going shopping the morning of, bringing those fresh ingredients back to the building, creating that meal for our friends outside, and then bringing them out.

So like, I’m not doing hundreds of meals, I’m doing dozens, so it’s just me in this intimate time, it scratches the itch for me of cooking, and I just think of the folks that are going to be getting the meals, I do some social media posts of what we’re serving that day. And usually I get comments like, Oh, I’ll go under the bridge for that.

And I’m like, no, you don’t want to go under the bridge, but it’s like making those awesome meals for me brings like satisfaction to me that I’m doing something for someone to fill their belly with something nutritious, but then also something that gives them, like you said, dignity, right? Like, yes, you deserve a steak sandwich or you deserve lasagna.

You know, it’s not just peanut butter and jelly and bologna sandwiches. There’s nothing wrong with that. I mean, I’d like a good bologna sandwich, but I’d rather have a steak sandwich.

Matt Masur: Yeah. No, that’s wonderful. Do you usually know who they’re going to? Do you have kind of a similar crowd, or do you make what you estimate are enough?

John: Yeah, so based on the season, summer times our numbers go way up. So it could be up to 100 lunches in a week, and then in the winter time it could go down, when there was a lot of snow, it could go down to like 200. Twenty launches, right? So for me, wintertime makes it more intimate. Summertime is like you’re cranking out numbers.

But no, we do a circuit through the city. I have a route that we go through. We know where the campsites are, where people are living in abandoned buildings. And we go visit those friends over there and we might meet someone new and they tell us, Hey, I’m staying over here. And that’s how we find camps.

I see. Like, there’s, to me, the campsites are like, Like there’s a campsite in Widewaters Parkway right now, which you wouldn’t think there’s a guy living in a tent there, with a generator, in the middle of a financial district, right? You would never, like, you drive by, people drive by these things all the time and don’t realize they’re in plain sight, right?

Surviving. Yeah. Yeah, well, I found that out through another word of mouth. That’s how I found that guy’s campsite See, that’s that’s that network that you need to to serve that community. You really got to be yeah hands on boots on the ground I guess for lack of a better term Yeah, and people in the community understood like bring thanking you to let me bring awareness because these are people This is somebody’s family.

Sure. We’re out there, right? If it was your family member out there Would you want me showing up the answer is yes, but if it’s not your family, sometimes we kind of don’t want to look at Yeah Yeah, no, you’re absolutely right. And that’s why it’s great to have folks like you and a whole coalition locally.

Matt Masur: It’s, again, it’s sort of, you know, it’s one of those things we wish we didn’t have the need for it. But because we do, it’s phenomenal that we have folks like you that have dedicated yourself and given up serving people like me in a fancy restaurant right now to serving these folks who, like I said, a good meal and a friend that they can count on.

Yeah. Is a lot better than

John: anything you can do for me. Yeah, and I say also, like, you know, I appreciate you saying the kind words about me going out and all that, but I always, one of my mantras is like, I’m your hands extended. Like you can’t, you know, I’m not expecting you to go under the bridge, but when you bring resources to me or finances to me, I become your hands extended.

We’re out there together.

Matt Masur: Yeah.

John: Building hope and changing lives.

Matt Masur: That’s wonderful.

John: Yeah.

Matt Masur: John, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast, telling everybody what you do, and thank you for everything that you do. We’re going to put the obviously the links and everything will be in the, in the description and all that so folks can jump in and, and follow you on all the social medias.

We just had a quick conversation just for a little side note about a recent story of yours, a post on social media that’s getting a lot of traction. So folks may notice that and may even recognize you from seeing that before they see this. But Anything that you can do to share the message, you know, any of these organizations that folks are, are a fan of, they see them doing good work.

The like is nice. The share is even better. Spread that message to other folks. It costs you 0. Yeah. And if you’re watching

John: this, I would say, you know, maybe a family member or your, Boss or someone that you feel wants to get engaged in the community share this podcast link with them So they could see matt interviewing me and telling the story.

I’d be appreciated

Matt Masur: so many so many great things to talk about that you have going on and we’ll have you back again and do some more of that I think we’ll call it a day for today and let you get back to doing your thing So thank you folks for joining us on the growth mode conversations podcast.

We’ll catch you next time.