Here Comes The Shun

Remember 2020? That was, among other things, the year of the heroic retail and restaurant worker/owner, braving a very uncomfortable period of uncertainty and stress from both panicked consumers, the closure of dine-in services in numerous communities, and facing a virus whose true virulence and death- and long-term-complication-causing impacts are still being discovered even midway into 2021.

Well, as things wobble around precariously back to whatever new normal emerges, these workers have returned back to their typical status of not being thought of highly at all. Many politicians would have you believe they’re all just being lazy, getting fat while sucking up government handouts versus being a gainfully employed “good American.”

(FWIW, $300/week unemployment checks over one year is $15,600; full-time minimum wage in Ohio gets you nearly $3K more than that. And neither amount will get the average adult even a bare-bones living in Ohio or pretty much any state in the Union…but I digress.)

People are back to being more enthralled by someone like Richard Branson, who recently rode a wave of enthusiasm with his recent trek to the edge of space. In spite of his proclamation that his mission was “to turn the dream of space travel into a reality – for my grandchildren, for your grandchildren, for everyone,” the reality is these flights are almost exclusively going to be the realm of the well-heeled/well-connected for now.

And whether you take the optimistic view of Ars Technica or the dour view of The Atlantic, the reality is those with the money and/or fame will be deemed the heroes, not the everyday worker. Even in places like the former Communist Soviet Union, folks like Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin got the parades, not the local corner store clerk in Moscow who handled shitty customers with grace and aplomb for years on end.

Many retail and hospitality businesses are looking for workers to come back to the fold, but despite politicians’ claims, I believe there aren’t as many available to go back. Many have simply moved on to new jobs – colleges like Columbus State had grants for individuals to learn new skills, and many took them up on it. The rise of remote teleconferencing and similar has generated a whole new field of jobs which unemployed people filled. A few hearty souls have even ventured out and went into business for themselves during this period. More tragically, some former retail and restaurant workers have died or have acquired long-term complications from a bout with COVID, or are dealing with similar circumstances with a family member in their care.

Some are finding challenges to getting back to the working world, especially families with children who were challenged by schools going to remote learning or the shrinking of child care options.

And even those folks who are riding unemployment benefits until they are forced back into the workforce – can you really blame them for doing so? Is minimum wage and almost certainly lack of benefits worth the passive/aggressive (or in some cases, just darn aggressive) attitude people who were against masking regulations and/or vehemently anti-vaccination? Or worth wading back again into the COVID-19 muck, now driven mostly by the more contagious Delta variant (even many Republicans, with wide speculation about the reasons why, have done a complete 180 in regard to encouraging vaccinations.)

Amidst this, another group of people came up in my mind recently, a group which has had trouble even obtaining a chance for gainful employment in better times in order to better their life circumstances.

There’s an old saying, with varying origin stories – if you give a man a fish, they’ll eat for a day, but if you that man give the skills to fish, they’ll be able to feed themselves for a lifetime.

The exterior to Freedom a la Cart’s new Downtown Columbus Cafe

There seems to be a parallel attitude in this country – if a man decides to steal a fish to eat, you should beat them silly over the head so that they don’t do it again. Doubling that man’s dilemma, the reluctance to give that man a second chance and learn the skills so they don’t feel the need to steal that fish anymore, dominates.

No matter what you may think of their version of their Nashville-style chicken, Columbus’s Hot Chicken Takeover (which I have written about a couple times on my previous blog, including this post) will always have a special place in our hearts because of their base mission. As stated on their website, they were founded in part to give those who have gone through “homelessness, previous incarceration, or other barrier to employment” the chance to gain “meaningful benefits, such as financial stability, personal growth, and professional development.”

Another traditionally shunned group lies with women who have through circumstance found themselves in the sex trade industry, oftentimes being unwillingly forced into it. Again, a Columbus-based organization has devoted their mission to helping out this group in Freedom a la Cart. As stated eloquently on their website:

Freedom a la Cart empowers survivors of sex trafficking and exploitation to build lives of freedom and self-sufficiency. We believe that giving a woman practical job skills and developing strong work ethic is vital for creating a pathway to freedom. So, we’ve created a safe place of restoration where survivors can heal, learn and grow as they prepare for sustainable employment and reintegrate into our community.

Back when they were known as DOMA International, the organization formed Freedom a la Cart in collaboration with Franklin County’s Municipal Court in 2009. Participants in the court’s CATCH (Changing Actions To Change Habits) program would have Freedom a la Cart as a vehicle to help them escape the cycle which sex trafficking and exploitation foisted on them.

The wall of supporter-engraved spoons

The process started modestly with a single food cart in 2011, but has slowly and steadily grown since, leading to a catering business, their initial mini-cafe (inside the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s Northside Branch), and finally, their first brick-and-mortar cafe in Downtown Columbus, opening in April of this year after pandemic-related delays.

If this were written up during my first years of blogging, I’m sure I would write up about atmosphere, interior decor, and similar. With that nowadays covered by my Instagram feed, I really won’t go into that here.

Rather, I’d like to make an observation on how easy humans love to proclaim their morality, or more specifically, what they believe others morals should be. That is fine, but the parallel factor of learning from your own moral failings sometimes goes lacking, with the infamous advisement “do as I say, not as I do” coming up here.

Choose your treat…it’s hard to go wrong

If nothing else, the pandemic as a whole had confirmed that humans, by definition and including yours truly, are all too fallible. That is a bonus reason why programs like Freedom A La Cart are important to me personally – not only do they go against the societal norm, and not only have they proven their success, but they also help me examine my own biases and beliefs towards others and refine them for the better. To borrow from Buddhism, they help me hone my senses of Right Understanding and Right Action (two of the spokes on the so-called Eightfold Path), and for that I am grateful.

There are ways to support Freedom a la Cart more strongly – due to their non-profit status, donations to their cause are tax-deductible. Also, their “Engage” section on their webpage offers a number of other ways for the average person to help their cause.

Of course, your support could be on the level which started whole enterprise to begin with, and I am like others grateful for that as well.

So let me ask, are you hungry?

In the mood for some delicious scratch-made pastries, or cafe-style sandwich or salad, a specially made brunch bowl, and perhaps a coffee or two?

Do you like supporting a good cause?

Yes, yes, and yes? Well, let me tell you about a place near the corner of 4th and Spring Streets downtown…

Freedom a la Cart/123 E. Spring Street, Columbus, OH 43215

Phone: 614-992-3252/Instagram: @freedomalacart/Website: https://freedomalacart.org/

E-mail: info@freedomalacart.org

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