While the response was heartening — about 200 guests filed through the dining room for biscuits and gravy, sausage and eggs, bacon, waffles and fruit — the cafe is still weighing the cost effectiveness and community support for expanding its hours beyond its weekday schedule.
Its plan is do it all again on Saturday, Feb. 27, and Saturday, March 19, to see if the interest holds and and if equally encouraging numbers of diners and volunteers turn out.
“We’re still in the test mode, testing to see the community response is strong enough for us to continue,” said Jan Orchard, executive director of “A Community Restaurant for Everyone” from which the cafe takes it acronym.
Most encouraging, Orchard said, was the sense of neighborliness felt in the cafe on Saturday. “Everyone was visiting, staying and talking. It had a neighborhood feeling, a different kind of feeling, something of a community feeling.”
And that was just the kind of ambiance the cafe was shooting for when it set out on its two-fold mission more than two years ago. Facilitating a “coming together of community,” to address the issue of food insecurity and providing a place where everyone can eat regardless of their ability to pay, work if they need to, pay it forward with a donation or join the the almost all-volunteer staff in serving others is what One ACRE Cafe is all about.
Not as new as Saturday breakfast at the cafe but also making good headway in its community building mission is the cafe’s Employability and Transition Initiative with the Science Hill High School. Launched in August, Orchard said the program is close to accomplishing its goal to provide a minimum of 25 at-risk Science Hill students with hands-on experience in the working world.
Earning their way into the program through academic achievement and exemplary conduct, the program brings the six the top-performing students from Science Hill’s alternative school to the cafe once a week for two hours of training in all facets of the restaurant business.
In addition to the skills, self confidence, work ethic and professionalism the students gain from the experience, they also earn a wholesome farm-to-table meal for their service at the cafe, making the program one of the alternative school’s most popular. “They love it,” Orchard said. “They look at is as a privilege to be selected and it motivates them to succeed in their classes.”
The success of the work-training initiative mirrors a couple of higher level educational partnerships that have been at work at One ACRE cafe for more than a year. East Tennessee State University’s nutrition and mass communications departments have both found the nonprofit cafe to be an excellent teaching ground.
While nutrition students create, prepare and test their original recipes at the cafe, senior level marketing students develop tools that bring greater awareness to its work, including the logo by which the cafe is known and a promotional video currently under production.
Dr. Stephen Marshall, chairman of the mass communications department, has called it a win-win relationship. “We know learning by application is the best way to teach our students, and our department is focused on giving students something beyond a degree when they graduate. These experiences are life-changing for our students and we appreciate our partnership with OAC.”
More information about the cafe can be found at oneacrecafe.org or www.facebook.com/oneacrecafe. Volunteers are always needed and may sign up online or may call the cafe at 423-483-0517.
If there is a need or a project in your neighborhood the Good Neighbor column can assist with, contact Sue Guinn Legg at 423-722-0538 or P.O. Box 1717, Johnson City, TN 37605.
Email Sue Guinn Legg at [email protected]itypress.com. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.