When you can devour cookies for a cause, what’s not to love? In this segment of the Columbus Culinary Chronicles, I’m getting the scoop on Freedom a la Cart. If you aren’t aware, Freedom a la Cart is a local charity supporting human trafficking victims by teaching them skills in the food service industry. They have a wonderful catering menu, and also have a mini cafe in the main branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library selling baked goods. Learn more about this wonderful organization, with responses from Executive Director Paula Haines and Head Chef Jessica Levy below.
Can you tell us a little bit about Freedom a la Cart and how it got started?
Paula: Absolutely. In 2009, our founder, Julie Clark, established Doma International as a community-based support program for adult survivors of human trafficking. Two years later we expanded the program to fill the void between restoration and economic independence, and purchased a food cart as a workforce training tool for survivors. While Doma offered supportive services toward restoration, the Freedom a la Cart social enterprise gave survivors a job and means to live. Freedom a la Cart became the vehicle – literally – through which survivors began the ever-important first steps to self-sufficiency.
In 2014 we dropped the Doma International name and now operate both our supportive services program and our thriving catering & box lunch business under one name: Freedom a la Cart.
In the past two years alone, Freedom has provided supportive services to 326 survivors of human trafficking – an annual increase of over 80%. 55 survivors received workforce training and 20 survivors transitioned from our program into sustainable employment in the community. 85% of survivors that have been in the program experience no new criminal charges.
The majority of your employees are human trafficking survivors. How has working for Freedom a la Cart benefited them?
Paula: I would love for you to hear a response to this questions from one of our survivors! They are beautiful, strong woman who work hard to keep their life on track; and it’s exciting for us to watch them transform before our eyes. Freedom helps them see their worth, find their voice and become more confident, and self-sufficient. These women are getting their driver’s licenses, buying cars, paying taxes, attending college, moving into permanent housing and regaining custody of their children. They are gaining employment as office assistants in law firms, as treatment assistants in recovery programs, and as chefs in restaurants. Life changing, generational impact.
Freedom a la Cart’s Instagram account (@freedomalacart1) features lots of delicious baked goods. What’s your favorite treat to make?
Jessica: Thank you. That is always such a difficult question for me, the ‘favorite’. I have such a deep love for making pastries. I enjoy making them all and getting to practice different techniques and methods. Bringing new items to the menu is my probably my favorite time because it is all about the research and development. It means I get to play!
I know I’ve made plenty of kitchen blunders. Do you have any cringe-worthy kitchen disasters you’d like to share?
Jessica: Haha, I actually don’t have any super crazy stories. About 7 years ago, my family asked me to make dinner rolls for Thanksgiving. which I had actually never made, but I wanted to go all out and make the most amazing dinner rolls in all the land. So I researched and found the best recipe by a chef I idolized and thought they had to be the best. So I got home the night before Thanksgiving from working a very loooong shift and started making my rolls. The first batch did not turn out, so I tried again.. Well, batch two wasn’t going well either and I was sitting on the kitchen floor staring into the oven cry-begging my little rolls to rise and bake in the oven. It just wasn’t happening. So long story short, it ended with me buying good ol’ Sister Schuberts frozen dinner rolls Thanksgiving morning at Kroger with dried tears still on my face.
Which Columbus establishment do you frequent more than any other?
Jessica: Kroger! You can literally find me there everyday. But that probably wasn’t what you were looking for. I live in German Village, so I typically stick to my little bubble- South Village Grill, Skillet, Club 185, The Blind Lady Tavern, Fox in the Snow are a few of my go to spots. Vernacular for shopping.
What is your favorite locally made product?
Jessica: Hmmm.. there is that ‘favorite’ question again. That is truly a tough one, there are so many great locally made products. Columbus really is such a wonderful city and it is continually growing and expanding especially with new talent and products. So I will give a shout out to a non-food place that I love which is Honest Carry Goods. They make such beautiful products, love their bags.
Can you share your go-to recipe to make at home?
Jessica: I am pretty simple when it comes to cooking at home. I try to prep my food for the week on one day. So typically I just chop up a bunch of veggies to have throughout the week. I just have them cut up in the fridge and ready to cook throughout the week for whatever meal I feel like making that day. But I do eat a lot of roasted vegetables for dinner. I grill or bake chicken and put that over greens for salads or with rice and beans to have for lunches throughout the week. And I medium boil eggs to have for breakfast with either yogurt, a granola bar or a protein shake. I genuinely enjoy hosting people, so that is when I like to go all out.
What is your favorite kitchen tool?
Jessica: Commercial stand mixer, rubber spatula and bowl scraper…these are a few of my favorite things.
Rumor has it that there is a Freedom a la Cart cafe in the works, in addition to the Columbus Metropolitan Library location. Can you give us the scoop about what’s coming up in the future?
Paula: Well, we’re not ready to announce a location quite yet. But we are currently raising funds, and talking with property owners for a near-future Freedom a la Cart cafe. In the meantime, we’ll be expanding into wholesale business this year. And you may even see a Freedom a la Cart pop-up cafe.
Tell us about any major fundraising events supporting Freedom a la Cart.
Paula: Our annual fundraiser – Eat Up! Columbus – was on Saturday (February 10th) at St. Charles Preparatory School. We have a talented team of 10 local chefs, led by the amazing Catie Randazzo of Ambrose & Eve [and Challah food truck!] who collaborate to prepare a 5-course dinner with drink pairings. Master mixologist Cris Dehlavi crafts a signature cocktail and selects the drink pairings. It’s such a fun night! Everyone tells us it’s their favorite event of the year! And of course, we agree. Eat Up! Columbus raises over $100,000 to support our work to empower and employ survivors of human trafficking.
What else can people do to support this cause, whether through donations or volunteering?
Paula: Friends of Freedom can support our mission by:
1) donating online at freedomalacart.org/donate-now/
2) order our delicious box lunches or catering at freedomalacart.org/menu
3) visit our mini cafe located on the lower level of the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s Northside Branch at 1423 N. High St.
4) volunteer to be a personal mentor, bring a meal to CATCH Court or assist in the Freedom kitchen. Visit freedomalacart.org/give for details.
Have you tried Freedom a la Cart’s cookies or catering yet? If not, make sure to pick up some goodies soon and keep up with them on Instagram (@freedomalacart1)!
*All photos courtesy of Freedom a la Cart