Survivors of human trafficking face considerable challenges when trying to rebuild their lives. Felonies and a lack of basic job skills frequently prevent them from obtaining gainful employment.
Enter Freedom a la Cart.
Started by Doma International Founder Julie Clark, the food cart and catering business employs survivors of human trafficking, setting them on a path toward independence.
“Most of the women come to us never having a bank account, a car, or even the capability to read a schedule,” says Clark. “Conflict is something very difficult for survivors to work through, given the types of abuse and control they have been exposed to.”
Survivors have often lived on fast food and microwave meals prior to working for Freedom a la Cart, Clark says. By preparing and serving healthy food, they learn first hand what is good for their well being.
Freedom a la Cart worked its first food event in May 2011, and soon began sharing the kitchen at Double Happiness in the Brewery District.
“So at first, catering was only possible when there was a special event request that we could prepare out of the donated kitchen,” Clark says. “We needed to be out of there every day by 4 p.m.”
In July 2012, Freedom a la Cart began working out of the commercial kitchen at the downtown Columbus YMCA.
“When we moved into the Y, the opportunities became endless,” she says. “Lunch orders started coming in and we had space to work whatever we needed to, so events like weddings became possible.”
To date, Freedom a la Cart has catered about 100 events, including several at the governor’s mansion.
The staff is made up of seven survivors. To be able to employ more survivors on a consistent basis, the social enterprise has begun offering online ordering for lunch.
Freedom a la Cart’s food has Latin notes, as its chef was heavily influenced by her Argentinian grandmother’s cooking.
“Chimichurri, beloved by our chef and fans, is an Argentine condiment made mostly of parsley,” Clark says. “We use lots of fresh herbs, slow cooked meats, bright veggie and fruits. Our desserts are devilish and our tangy ginger lemonade is oh so refreshing.”
Clark says her “wildest dream” is for Freedom a la Cart’s model to catch on in other cities.
“How do we improve human well-being?” she asked. “By getting donors to give to a non-profit a repeated monthly or yearly amount? Or by using the collective wisdom and talents in a group to make a product that other people want to buy, and using the making of that product to shout your values loudly?”
Clark contends that steady employment with a group of fun, accepting people should be part of every survivor’s healing.
“It feels good to earn one’s keep, cash that paycheck and buy presents for their kids,” she says. “So much of recovery is based on the first five minutes. It’s time to shift that to the years of recovery, and to ways we can all help.”
To learn more about Freedom a la Cart, visit FreedomalaCart.org.