CARTS FOR COMMUNITY

Danaeya James, 15, (left) and Lexi Garel, 17, both interns with Briarpatch Youth Services, help at the Noosh food cart during the Carts For Community at Worthington Park in Madison.

PHOTO BY MICHELLE STOCKER

Madison's Carts for Community concluded its program for the summer this week at Worthington Park on the east side, having provided an estimated 2,000 meals throughout the summer. The community meals were offered four times a week in different neighborhoods around the city.

C4C is a community meals program that serves free food from participating food carts at weekly neighborhood gatherings. Community members who showed up to the event received $5 vouchers and chose a food cart to buy from. Each food cart is guaranteed $250 dollars for the hours of the event.

The meals are subsidized by a combination of partnerships with Mentoring Positives, Brothers Aligned Coalition, Allied Community Co-op, Common Wealth Development, Healthy Food For All, Madison Parks, MSCR, neighborhood resource teams, the mayor's office and fundraisers. The fundraised money is also used to hire community ambassadors to help spread the word about the free meals and for arts and entertainment during the meals. C4C was at Burr Oaks on Mondays, Darbo/Worthington on Tuesdays, Allied Drive on Wednesdays and Meadowood on Thursdays.

C4C is also partnered with Common Wealth Development and Briarpatch Youth Services to support the educational labs for youth interning at some of the food carts. Interns got paid $9 an hour from funds provided by the carts and Briarpatch.

Noosh, a food cart serving Jewish food, is one of the food carts that participated in C4C.

“The Carts for Community is more about getting healthier food into locations that don't have it," said Laila Borokhim, owner of Noosh. "My passion in life is wanting to get people access to healthy food."

Borokhim said her interns started with little knowledge of food prep but quickly “threw them into the fire” and after only two days of work, allowed them to run the food cart on their own. One of the interns cooked and the other served customers, while Borokhim supervised them from a distance.

“I think that's the way to understand if you really like something, to really just immerse yourself in it," she said. "I think that they’ve learned a lot more interpersonal skills, what it takes to run a small business. They're learning how to think critically ... Things are always breaking, the weather is always against you, you really have to be able to think on your feet."

Borokhim said she doesn’t really make a financial profit from the venture and there’s space for organizers to improve on the model. Even so, she still believes it’s a good program that other food carts should participate in.

“You don't do things like this to make money,” Borokhim said.

Ugly Apple food cart, which serves breakfast all day, is another business participating both in the community meals and internship program.

Laurel Burleson, owner of Ugly Apple, said her experience in the program has taken her to neighborhoods she wouldn’t have visited otherwise. She was able to work with three interns over the summer and said it has been a good learning experience.

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“They are curious and interested and it's been really cool to get a chance to train new eyes to the kitchen,” Burleson said.

Burleson also admitted that the program has benefitted her both financially and personally.

It's been really good for me to see a wider range of customers, to get a better sense of what other people are looking for when they come to food carts and not just the crowd I see downtown in the morning,” Burleson said.

Burleson said she hopes to participate in the program again next year and has offered her interns the opportunity to work during their breaks. She also hopes to see more food carts participating, adding that it can help them expand their customer base and get creative with providing more affordable meal options.

“I think [the program] is doing a lot of good," she said. "It's a commitment but I think it’s a manageable one."