Offering ‘hand-up’ to food-insecure families
Five 2017 graduates of Woodford County High School, with the support of others in the community, are leading an effort to launch a pay-it-forward café in downtown Versailles.
Spark Community Café will offer a hand-up to local families who are food insecure and have limited access to nutritious meals, according to Tristan Ferrell, co-executive director of the board overseeing the nonprofit business.
The pay-it-forward café will open this coming summer in the downtown space currently occupied by Pretty in Pink, Ferrell said.
“The timing of this café just happens to coincide with Pretty in Pink being at a crossroads,” said Maria Bohanan, who co-owns the business with Donna Carroll.
“It warms our hearts that our space will be used to do some good for our community, and we feel it is a continued effort to revitalize our downtown that we feel we were a part of beginning.”
Other than a small staff of four to six employees, including executive chef Jesse Frost, Spark Community Café will rely on volunteers for its workforce. Anyone who can’t pay will volunteer their time to the nonprofit for a meal.
“You’ll never know who’s volunteering for a meal or who’s just volunteering to volunteer,” said Kyle Fannin, a former WCHS teacher and now co-executive director of the Spark Community Café board.
“It’s a hand-up – not a handout,” explained Ferrell. With the support of Rough Draft Farmstead, a Community Supported Agriculture project, Spark Community Café will serve locally-sourced, organic foods.
“What makes it special,” said Fannin, “is the quality of food … this will be amazing food.”
Everyone who pays for their meals – with a suggested donation – will “pay it forward” for those who cannot.
Because a meal at Spark Community Café may need to get someone through the day, Ferrell said the food will also be very nutritious.
He described food insecurity – faced by more than 12 percent of Woodford County’s population – as an issue “people don’t talk about or you don’t see.”
The idea for a pay-it-forward restaurant traces its origins to before last summer when Ferrell and other graduating seniors in Woodford County High School’s community activism class operated a popup coffee shop during the Spark Festival in downtown Versailles.
In their efforts to find a location for a popup and “spark” a revitalization of downtown Versailles, Ferrell and four of his senior classmates became aware of Grace Café in Danville.
A meeting with its executive director led to the five WCHS seniors – Ferrell, Keegan Elvidge, Rachael Kral, Reagan Jobe and Kathryn Craig – going to a summit last January for pay-it-forward nonprofit cafés operating in cities across the country.
“It was an amazing experience,” said Fannin. “And I knew at that point that this was going to work out.”
With the expertise of board members like Lori Garkovich and restaurateur Ouita Michel, those involved want Spark Community Café to become a gathering place in downtown Versailles where everyone comes to enjoy a nutritious meal together.
“I’m super-proud to be involved with the café and I think it’s visionary for Versailles,” said Michel. “I’m extremely excited about … this new generation … coming up with ideas to creatively serve their community. And I’m really proud to be a part of it.”
She credited the five 2017 WCHS grads now serving on the nonprofit’s board for doing a tremendous amount of work and research before embarking on this effort to bring a pay-it-forward restaurant to their community, “and I think it could really change the way people see the community of Versailles.”
Molly Bohanan and Lindsey Carroll, the daughters of Pretty in Pink’s co-owners, were both a part of Woodford County High School’s community activism program (formerly known as Spark) “so we have seen the value that it has for these kids, and the impact (their work) can have on the community,” said Maria Bohanan, who will now serve on the Spark Community Café board.
Anyone who would like to get behind this grassroots effort to offer a hand-up to food-insecure families in the community can send an email firstname.lastname@example.org. The nonprofit currently needs sponsors to help cover startup costs of about $150,000. Visitsparkcommunitycafeky.org for more information.