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November 24, 2009
Brooklyn man determined to change life by feeding 400 fellow homeless men

by Jake Pearson

First, Canito Cintron slept on people's couches. Then, as his addiction grew stronger, he moved to subway cars and park benches. Sometimes he slept in jail cells.

Now, after battling homelessness and addiction for the past 20 years, Cintron is determined to turn his life around through hard work - beginning with cooking a Thanksgiving feast for 400 fellow homeless men.

"I'm thankful that I'm doing this for myself," said Cintron, 45, Tuesday, after taking a sweet potato cheesecake pie out of the oven at a Doe Fund shelter in East Williamsburg, where he has lived since July.

"It's a good feeling when someone says, 'I liked what you cooked,'" he added.

Cintron is one of 12 budding chefs at the Peter Jay Sharp Center for Opportunity, the Doe Fund's largest facility, which has been providing temporary housing and work training for homeless men for the past six years.

The chefs-in-training have spent the past two days scrambling to prepare tomorrow's mouthwatering spread. They're cooking 24 turkeys, 100 pounds of sweet potatoes, 50 pounds of collard greens and all the fixings to boot.

"Even though it's stressful, cooking relaxes me," said Cintron, taking a much-needed break. "You just have to follow the recipe."

Led by Flatbush native Gino Dalesandro, a former sous chef at the Water Club in Manhattan, the trainees learn every aspect of cooking with the hope that after a year, they land jobs in the food industry.

"A lot of recovery is about mentoring," said Dalesandro, 50, himself a recovering addict who quit his swanky restaurant job to help others. "God gave me this talent, so my responsibility with that talent is to help people."

Cintron said that by next year he hopes to be in his own house, using his newfound skills to whip up a feast for his family.

"I've wasted the best years of my life," he said. "I don't want to lose the last years of my life, too."

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