A nonprofit organization that helps victims of human trafficking get their lives back on track will be able to do even more with anticipated revenue from a sold-out fundraising event, according to Paula Haines, executive director of Freedom a la Cart.
Last year’s Eat Up! Columbus fundraiser, in which local chefs and restaurants donate time and food for a dinner party, brought the northwest Columbus-based Freedom a la Cart $140,000. Organizers said this year’s version Saturday, March 9, at St. Charles Preparatory School in Columbus, is expected to do at least as well.
That funding, according to Haines, will help add an employment coach to the staff of the catering social enterprise, which offers employment and job training.
The new coach will help the women, most of whom came to Freedom a la Cart through the CATCH Court program, identify strengths and set goals, while also working with businesses to create training for specific job openings.
CATCH (Changing Actions to Change Habits) is one of the specialty programs of Franklin County Municipal Court aimed at helping victims of human trafficking, prostitution and sexual exploitation.
In addition, the 2019 Eat Up! will help fund the expansion of what Haines called the “Butterfly Program,” which provides support to women who have graduated from Freedom a la Cart to other types of employment, but who face the risk of falling back into prostitution or substance abuse without that support system.
The program went from 35 participants the first year in 2017 to 77 last year, and 80 percent benefited from the case-management approach, according to Haines.
“Case management is a one-on-one program that’s very costly, but we feel that’s worth it,” she said.
“The experience that they’re getting working in our catering business is building good skills ... to transition in whatever kind of job partners they might have.”
Jessica Levy, now executive chef for Freedom a la Cart, became aware of the organization’s existence when she was invited to participate in an Eat Up! Columbus fundraiser several years ago while working at a local restaurant.
“I just thought it was such a great way for the chefs to come together,” Levy said.
“I had to jump at being part of that,” said Jack Moore, executive chef at Watershed Kitchen & Bar, lead chef for Eat Up! Columbus.
“It’s unbelievably generous,” Haines said of the support that chefs and restaurants show through the fundraising events, which began in 2014. “It’s affirming to us that the work we’re doing, it really helps these women recognize that they’re valued. For them to actually see that coming from the community is so powerful.”
“It means a lot to them,” Levy said of Freedom’s catering staff members. “They’re honored and grateful.”
All the money raised, she said, funds support services for the women, from getting their GEDs to obtaining a driver’s license, finding a first apartment and helping to furnish it.
It is used “to help them with anything they could possibly need to be self-sufficient,” Levy said.
“I really feel like this is a problem happening right in our backyard, and people do need to talk about it,” said Moore, who first got involved in efforts to help human trafficking victims when he was a chef in Cleveland.
Eat Up! Columbus has been a blessing for Freedom a la Cart, Haines said.
“Originally, it generated about half of the income that we brought in from donations every year,” she said. “Now it’s about a third, but we still rely on those funds to help with programming and bring new programming on board.”