Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Catering Company Serves Freedom to Human Trafficking Survivors

Working in a kitchen is all about consistency. For the women learning about cuisine at Freedom a la Cart, it’s about more than what’s on the menu.

The non-profit organization started 10 years ago simply to provide meals to those participating in Ohio’s first human trafficking specialized docket at Franklin County Municipal Court – Changing Actions to Change Habits (CATCH Court). It evolved into a full-scale catering company employing survivors in need of a job as they work toward becoming fully independent from court supervision and government assistance.

“We teach them those basic things, [for example], what it means to be dependable and responsible for your job,” said case manager April Thacker. “It’s not just a job. It’s really a community support of services.”

Since 2009, Freedom a la Cart has worked closely with CATCH Court providing assistance to human trafficking victims during their involvement in the program and after graduation, as well. While the court focuses on rehabilitating women and keeping them sober, Freedom is there for day-to-day needs, like providing transportation, clothing, and other necessities.

“We’re helping them to get their apartments, helping them with financial things, the things outside of the courtroom,” said Susan Trianfo, who is the group’s volunteers and key partners manager.

Arguably no person has benefited more from Freedom’s outreach than Thacker – who is also a human trafficking survivor and recovering from drug addiction. While in recovery, she went through a never-ending cycle of rejected job applications until she found out about Freedom.

“I was going to be the best employee ever. I was going to work really, really hard, so I could prove that I was no longer a menace to society, but I could be a member of society,” Thacker said.

In five years, she worked her way up through the kitchen ranks before her promotion to directly working with other survivors. On top of being independent and a homeowner, she’s now working toward her bachelor’s degree in social work.

“I believe life puts us in situations so that you can learn and grow, and I believe everything that I went through was just kind of like training and schooling, if you will, to help me do what I do today,” Thacker said.

One of the people she’s presently helping is Clarisa – who was a typical working mom when crimes caused by a pill addiction led her to prison at 33. When she got out after five years for theft and forgery, she was still in a state of solitude. As a result, she experimented with heroin, and ended up in the dark depths of human trafficking.

“I felt hopeless and I didn’t have nobody. I just didn’t feel wanted, you know. So, I numbed that pain and I did that for many years,” Clarisa said.

Set to graduate from CATCH Court later this year, she’s worked in the Freedom kitchen since November. Fourteen months into recovery, she’s focused on the next phase of her life. It includes moving in with her youngest daughter, who will start college in the fall.

“I’ve got to get my life back in order and get to see my kids and my grandkids, and I wouldn't change it for nothing. I've got my relationship back with my parents,” Clarisa said.

What started as a good deed to feed survivors a decade ago by founder Julie Clark morphed into a seasonal food cart two years later before its present incarnation. Freedom has employed 92 survivors since 2012 and supported hundreds of others as part of the organization’s mission to help as many people as possible. The group’s next goal is to start its own café.

“We are working really hard to raise the money so that we can not only expand the number of women that we serve, but also have a home base so that survivors can come and hang out,” Trianfo said.