Try this! Open a “pay-what-you-can” café and nourish your neighbors

This week’s spotlight: all things food.

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One Acre Cafe is just weeks away from their grand opening.
(photo via OAC Facebook)

When Jan Orchard read stories to her first-grade students, they seemed fidgety—even for seven-year-olds. On mornings when she brought in blueberry muffins, though, they paid much more attention to her.

“They were hungry,” she says.

That’s when she started to understand just how much food insecurity was affecting her community in Johnson City, Tennessee—and decided to do something about it. Last year, she quit her teaching job to open One Acre Café, a “pay what you can” restaurant that’s just a few weeks away from turning on its ovens.

For Jan, the most exciting part about One Acre Café is how the community has come together over the past year to help open its doors. Its existence is owed to the culmination of over 1,000 volunteer hours and $80,000 worth of donated equipment, building materials, and labor.

“Someone donated a $15,000 granite countertop, the plumbing company donated a toilet, a tile company donated all the tile for the bathrooms, and a furniture company donated couches for our lounge,” she says.

Even though all these donations are going towards a charitable café, it’s not going to be a “free” restaurant.

“The idea behind the café is that everyone can contribute something. People are asked to invest in a resource for their community in exchange for their time, and for that, they’ll be fed,” she says.

Payment for a meal comes in the form either of a cash donation ($4, $6, or $8 depending on portion size) or as one hour of volunteer time doing something like rolling silverware, serving food, or greeting patrons.

Beyond being a great place to go and eat, Jan dreams of making One Acre Café a gathering place in the community where people can have interesting conversations and connect with one another.

“What happens when people lose their jobs is that they get deeper and deeper in debt and they become ashamed to go out into the community,” she says. “The idea behind the café is that there should be a neighborhood place where everyone is welcome to come and enjoy a nice meal and have a good conversation without feeling uncomfortable or ashamed about whether or not they have a lot of money.”

How you can replicate it

1. Use a model

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The site of One Acre Café is a former bar and vacant building in downtown Johnson City which has been a real “fixer-upper.”
(photo via OAC Facebook)

Early in the planning stages for One Acre Café, Jan reached out to the One World Everybody Eats Foundation (OWEE), a nonprofit dedicated to fighting food insecurity by helping people start pay-what-you-can restaurants.

They offer best practices, mentorship, and “start-up” kits (basically a ‘paint by numbers’ on how to start a community restaurant) to people who are interested in starting one in their community.

2. Ask other community restaurants for advice

Part of the OWEE model is that once you’re up and running, you should be there to mentor other people who also want to start a community restaurant. One Acre Café had a lot of guidance from the F.A.R.M. Café in Boone, Tennessee.

“What makes these cafés different from other restaurants is that they’re not in competition with one another, they’re trying to help one another,” Jan says.

3. Follow up with people who offer help

Jan’s benefited greatly from believing that when people want to help out, you should let them.

A year ago when she was first getting started, she held a community meeting and silent auction to help get the word out about her plans. At the meeting, she put out some volunteer forms.

Jan was able to grow OAC’s strong volunteer base by calling up everybody who filled out a form.

One of their volunteers, a construction worker named Ernest, has put in a lot of time helping with renovations and monitoring construction permits. But you can tell he’s getting excited about opening day because he has more on his mind than the construction projects. He stopped Jan a few weeks ago with an important question:

“A bunch of the guys here wanted me to make sure you were gonna serve some nice hearty soups and stews with good bread.”

Jan assured him, yes, they’d make sure to have some on the menu.

Are you interested in setting up a community restaurant in your area? Reach out to the One World Everybody Eats Foundation at community@oneworldeverybodyeats.org.

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Want to get involved in social change? Love yourself first

Each June, millions gather worldwide in parades, rallies, festivals, and more to celebrate LGBT pride. In honor of this movement, this week we’re shining a spotlight on the LGBT youth community and the myriad of ways you can get involved. Today’s story is about one young man’s coming out journey both to himself and the world of social good.

There comes a point in your life when you have to look in the mirror, and ask,  “Who am I?”

In April this year, while I was lying in bed in the wee hours of the night, I did just this.  I picked up my phone, opened Instagram, and chose a photo that I had taken earlier that night. I typed a short paragraph that forever changed my life:

My name is Hakeem Hicks, I am an African-American college student at Clemson University and I aspire to work in the field of broadcast journalism. I am a Gates Millennium Scholar, an innovator, a leader, and a role model. I am a man of faith who has his own relationship with God. I am a son. I am a brother. I am a best friend. I am a visionary. I am an achiever. I am a conqueror…. and I am a member of the LGBT community!

With the submission of this one post I released a myriad of emotions – fear, anxiety, doubt, worry, stress, even self-hate. I had finally found the courage to share my biggest secret that I had been keeping for 15 years – I am a bisexual male.

That night I laid in bed for over an hour just thinking and contemplating on what I had done the next morning. My mind was in a whirlwind. Will my family disown me? Will my church family shun me? Would my peers treat me differently? No matter how bad the potential answers were to these questions, I was still at peace.

Growing up LGBT in South Carolina

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Hakeem showing Clemson pride.

When I was younger, I was deathly afraid to let anyone know about my sexuality. I’d been on the receiving end of taunts about “being gay and a faggot” since I was in the fourth grade and those taunts broke down my confidence and left me vulnerable.

Then as I got older and became affiliated with the church, the desire to be and do exactly what I feel in my heart got stifled even more by sermons that said I was an abomination and unrighteous. I tried to “pray the gay away.” No matter how hard I prayed or how long I fasted, my desires never died down.  So I stopped trying to be what others wanted me to be and began living just as I was created.

My coming out process took three long years. It started my junior year of high school; I came out to my best friend one random day after school. She immediately embraced me. She expressed that she had always known and even began to unsuccessfully try her best to play matchmaker.

The next step was for me to tell my mother. My mother had always raised me to not be judgmental and to walk in love; I had been exposed to members of the LGBT community my entire life and she supported them. My mom was the one person I knew would be there for me and would have no problems with me being a same-gender loving person.

I was wrong. When I came out to her last summer, she told me that I was disgusting and that I would go to hell. We didn’t speak for two whole months. I gave up on my life during the fall semester of that year. I was no longer trying to work, experience, and grow; I was just there. Friends and mentors got me through this time.

Finding purpose again

The last phase to my coming out was to let the world know. I don’t know what happened to me that night in April that pushed me to share with the world my deepest secret, but I’m glad whatever stirred my spirit that night did.  

Now as an openly bisexual male, I feel it’s my purpose to break down barriers between the heterosexual world and the non-heterosexual world. I’m blessed to be a part of two major initiatives – Gates Millennium Scholars and National Youth Pride Services (NYPS). I recently joined NYPS as a way to be a part of a team of individuals who are passionate about gay rights and collectively known as an agent of change.

I don’t know exactly what my role will be in terms of LGBT social movements, but I do know this: I’ll never turn my back on those who have to give up or hide their own individual identity. Because in the end, gay pride isn’t just about loving another man, but about loving yourself.

National Youth Pride Services (NYPS) is an organization that develops and supports black youth leaders in the LGBT community. To apply for membership or get involved, email youthpridecenter@gmail.com.

248576_1904658150504_1608657_nHakeem Hicks is a third-year student at Clemson University majoring in Psychology and minoring in Education. An accomplished student and a recipient of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Gates Millennium Scholarship, Hakeem aspires to a career in broadcast journalism. He hopes to use his future platform to fight social injustices and be a role model for the young men of tomorrow.

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