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Oct 31, 2019

Freedom a la Cart raises awareness of exploitation while supporting survivors of human trafficking

Freedom a la Cart offers drop-off catering for breakfast and lunch as the foundation for employment, workforce training, and supportive services for survivors of human trafficking. Working closely with the special docket Catch Court in Franklin County, the organization has shown remarkable success in changing lives: 85 percent of Freedom a la Cart employees stayed out of the criminal justice system after participating in its services.

The organization was honored as the 2019 Social Enterprise of the Year at SocialVentures’ Aspire awards. A five-judge panel of local business leaders saw a clear demonstration of life-changing impact, resilience in their business model as they prepare to expand on Spring Street in 2020, and a wide-ranging influence in building public awareness of the pervasiveness of human trafficking in our community and the challenges of turning victims into survivors.

We talked with Executive Director Paula Haines to learn what has brought success to this social enterprise.

What is the greatest success of your business so far? Our greatest success is the life-changing impact we are having in the lives of survivors of sex trafficking. By providing paid workforce training and wraparound supportive services to survivors, Freedom a la Cart empowers women to move from poverty and vulnerability to stability and self-sufficiency. In a typical year, based on the needs of each woman, we provide supportive services to over 150, workforce training to 30, and direct employment to 10.

Some are not ready for a job yet, some have a job but need support. We try not to turn anyone away from our workforce development training.

You lost a major contract a few years back and now you’re look at expansion. How have you evolved? Freedom a la Cart has become more resilient by narrowing our focus. That enabled us to recognize our strong position in the market as a drop-off catering service so we could concentrate our product, service and marketing efforts to that niche. Over the last two years, we’ve gradually eliminated full-service catering, dropped low-selling menu items, and stopped doing dinner catering.

Basically, we shed anything that distracted us from being the best drop-off catering service in the city for breakfast and lunch events. Out expansion maintains the focus on breakfast and lunch, providing it directly at our new Spring Street café and through our drop-off catering.

You have had wide-ranging influence in building public awareness of the pervasiveness and human cost of trafficking. How have you done it? We try to be out in the community talking about our work and our program participants, sharing the truth about prostitution and sexual exploitation in our community. We speak at corporate lunch-and-learns, at civic organization meetings, at churches. Groups can fill out a speaker request at our website.

Can you share a story about an experience that best exemplifies the impact you are creating? “Valerie” is a survivor of sex trafficking and graduate of the Catch Court program. She worked at Freedom a la Cart for over three years. A local law firm approached us looking to hire an office assistant. We recommended Valerie and they interviewed and hired her. During our routine post-hire check-in, the employer shared concerns about Valerie’s struggles. Because we understood that her challenges were symptoms of her traumatic brain injury, we assigned our case manager to work with her every day to practice the skills required. After just a few weeks of daily repetitive exercise, Valerie was able to learn and retain the skills she needed. She’s now been with the law firm three years.

There are many catering businesses in town. Why have customers chosen you? Freedom a la Cart makes your meal more meaningful. We serve your guests with delicious, from-scratch food, all prepared locally by free women seeking a fresh start. We look to get on companies’ preferred vendor lists. When we became a preferred vendor for Ohio State University, it added credibility and exposure to the brand and OSU soon became our largest customer segment.

What do you see in the next five years for Freedom a la Cart? In order to serve more survivors through workforce development, Freedom a la Cart is expanding into our own brick and mortar building that will house our catering kitchen as well as a new Freedom a la Cart Cafe and Bakery. It will open at 123 E. Spring St. in downtown Columbus in summer 2020.

Long-term we’d like to continue to refine our business model so we can replicate it in other cities that have the combination of a strong special docket court diversion program like our Catch Court and large employers for whom we could become preferred vendors. To prepare, we have been accepted into the next cohort of the San Francisco-based REDF Accelerator program for employment-based social enterprises.

For more information on Freedom a la Cart, click here

Head to the marketplace to see how you can do business with local social enterprises like Freedom a la Cart and several other social enterprise caterers.