There have been many latent and unexpected things that have happened as a result of our initial napkin dream. Our initial goal and plan was pretty simple: feed people. That's it. We just wanted to feed people, and talk to them, and get to know them, and treat them like human beings, so they would know somebody cares no matter where they are at in life. So, mostly we wanted to feed people. Then, as we have been pursuing our goal and vision, other, unanticipated things have happened.
Community. Community has happened. We have built this amazing community of people. They come to the food truck, and they eat and visit with each other and with us. They talk to us on Facebook and encourage each other when they can. We have been told we are beloved members of some of the neighborhoods where we serve food. We have received cards and pictures and all kinds of crafts and loving messages. We have watched single moms get to know each other - and form support systems to help each other through the rocky times, and to cheer for each other in the great times.
Change. We have seen change. We have observed change in some of the systems that are in place to help people. Recently, we were at an event where we heard representatives from other organizations giving presentations. As we listened, we noticed that the tone of these presentations has changed. The words are softer, and the approaches toward helping others sounded very - well - "Torchy" to me. In fact, Sarah whispered, "Everyone is copying us." I replied, "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery." I am filled with joy at the thought that we have influenced those in other organizations to realize that people are people are people, no matter what has happened in their lives.
I've been pondering that change, and I think I know what has happened. Sarah and I have very publicly put a face on poverty. One time, I gave an English class I was teaching an assignment. They were to read a poorly-written article about Sarah and I and the Torch. I wasn't ready for their response. I wanted to know where the run-on and fragment sentences were. What places were examples of bad grammar, and where were the punctuation errors? Instead, the room became very silent. I finally asked if someone could point out the first error.
One of the men in the class hesitantly raised his hand and said, "It says you were homeless." I said, "I was." The silence continued as everyone awkwardly avoided commenting or making eye-contact with me. That's not the first time that has happened. People sometimes take a step back when I mention my period of homelessness. I've heard it and seen it when Sarah and I have presented together. We've put a face on it - and it could be anyone. That's a reality which is difficult to accept, but we have been saying it so much and for so long to anyone and everyone who will listen, and, I think we humanized it. That makes me happy.
Now, we are working with the 180 students. They are people who struggle with disabilities, but we don't focus on that. We focus on all the things they can do, and the bar of our expectation is high. And often, when we talk to people about the individuals we are working with - there are awkward moments. Somebody even told me that we would have to keep our prices low because the food our students made would be sub-par. Four years from now, I hope I am writing a blog about how the face of the individuals in our society who have disabilities has changed.
Could be another one of those unexpected results...
Nearly two years ago, we launched our second nonprofit organization, Torch 180. Torch 180 came about because, as we were out and about serving people from our food truck, we had a lot of conversations regarding employment. Actually, about the lack thereof. We met a lot of people who have disabilities - and the discussion of training opportunities came up frequently.
Sarah and I started thinking and talking about the situation, and we wondered if we could do something to help. As we pondered and brainstormed, we eventually started thinking we could offer training for people with disabilities who want to work in the food service industry. We had gotten pretty good at understanding what that takes, and were confident we could teach others. I had worked for over twenty years with people who had disabilities, and Sarah had vast experience in food service.
So, we both became ServSafe certified instructors and proctors, and launched Torch 180 in January, 2015. We soon connected with the Michigan Career and Technical Institute, which offers training for people with disabilities in Plainwell, Michigan. We became partners and agreed to become their first culinary satellite site in the state of Michigan!
We began looking for a building with a commercial kitchen to house this dream in, when we got the opportunity to train two young men. We borrowed a kitchen and launched our first class. Both young men passed their ServSafe Food Handler tests and are employed! We learned a lot from that class and were very excited to offer another class in yet a different kitchen over the summer. All six of those students successfully achieved their Food Handler certification!
The success of the students in both those classes has made us dream even bigger and higher about impacting and helping people change lives. We set out earnestly looking for a building - and praying like crazy - and we finally, after two years, have found one that meets all the requirements we have!
We are now raising money to purchase the building. Per usual, an awesome supporter stepped forward and offered to match 10% to any donations we receive between November 17, 2016 and December 31, 2016 - up to $30,000!
So, we are launching a campaign to encourage everyone to donate and support us - because your money will truly be multiplied! Any amount helps, and ALL donations will be used 100% for acquiring the building. After we have that - donations we be used to help people with disabilities find hope through our training programs and support systems - AND to expand the Torch as we seek ways to help even more people in need.
We can do all this TOGETHER!
Click here to donate now. And, thank you, from the bottom of our hearts!