One cannot be intimidating while holding pudding and eating chocolate chip cookies…
“This is the creamiest macaroni and cheese I’ve ever had” said the 6’6” 500 lb, bald, bearded, heavily tattooed, convicted felon: “Thank you so much for bringing it”. He was a gentle giant who wanted to make a better life for himself on the outside. On the street, he would be intimidating, but here, at the pop-up, he had a pudding cup in one hand, two cookies in his mouth and a drizzle of cheese on his mustache.
Our pop-up deals with career services, it’s not a perfect model (yet) but it’s a crash course of resume writing, cover letters, professional clothing, and job applications for our clientele. We do as much as possible in as short of time as possible with as little money as possible. The pop-ups are an experiment based on ending the cycle of human trafficking and exploitation. The general public likes to think that trafficking can happen to anyone, anywhere, at anytime, but that’s not accurate. Trafficking occurs within very specific parameters to a very select group of individuals. Trafficking often starts with economic desperation from both the trafficker and victim/survivor.
Ok, enough of that research & human rights stuff, this blog entry is about food…
When I was a kid, I used to love going over my grandmother (Mema’s) house because she always had something to eat. It wasn’t always the best food, but it was awesome because I got to eat it with my Mema. We would eat, and talk, and laugh, and watch television and when I left her house it felt like everything was good; I felt good, I felt whole and I knew that somebody cared about me.
The biggest part of our services (in my own personal opinion) is the food—greasy, creamy, stick-to-your-bones food. The type of food that you know you’re not supposed to be eating, but it’s oh sooo good… This months pop-up (yesterday) we had macaroni & cheese, spaghetti, pizza, wings, chili, chips, cookies, oranges, jello & pudding & a whole table of assorted other stuff.
At first, the clients always try to act professional, looking at the food, grazing, but not really eating. After all, we’ve been habituated our entire lives that food and work don’t go together. Our amazing and dedicated volunteer staff always stop that real quick “go get some food & let’s hang out”. It’s the most commonly heard phrase every time someone walks in. At the first plate, our clients are a little skittish, just getting to know us. By the 3rd or 4th plate, we’re best friends, laughing and eating, and working towards a better future. It’s like Mema’s kitchen, but with the expressed purpose to end the cycle of human rights violations.
I love our pop-ups; I love the volunteers (who have quickly become like family) and the clients. It’s the best part of my month. I love laughing and eating and helping our people to feel good again, to feel whole, just like my Mema taught me.
Food helps heal, and we go through a whole bunch of it. If you’re ever into helping out, and are in Cleveland, we would love to enlist your culinary abilities. Shoot me an e-mail Jesse @imaginefreedom.org