JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Keith Smith started volunteering at the Clara White Mission when he was just 14 years old. Smith’s mom sent him with his uncle so he could stay out of trouble. While he was there, he helped out in the kitchen.
Smith eventually became a trained chef at the mission and was called the “backbone” of an organization that helps feed people in need.
“I love what I do, helping people and giving back. Once you are at the mission, it’s in your blood,” he said in 2019.
After 31 years at the mission, his family and coworkers are now grieving after his sudden death this week due to COVID-19.
According to a family member who spoke with News4Jax, Smith died at the age of 51 on Monday. A funeral is planned for Saturday.
Smith was always known to always lend a hand.
“Chef Smith not only were you My Mentor and Teacher but you also became one of my dearest friends,” Barbara Battle wrote on his tribute wall. “You were the reason I volunteered at Clara White after graduating culinary school. You became a part of my everyday existence. The Clara White Mission will never be the same.”
Family member Laketa Smith told News4Jax that Keith Smith was vaccinated but didn’t know when he got the vaccine. She said Keith Smith’s brother is also currently in the hospital with COVID-19.
His friends remember Keith Smith for his genuine heart, caring, and giving spirit.
“He was one of my biggest supporters on my culinary journey,” said friend Jamie Williams. “Everything that I needed, he was there. He was someone I could talk to.”
The death comes after an outbreak of coronavirus cases at the organization that involved employees and residents.
Clara White Mission CEO Ju’Coby Pittman was hospitalized two weeks ago after contracting the virus and is still recovering. It’s unclear if the outbreak at the mission is what put Pittman in the hospital.