Bay Area catering company offers fair employment and entrepreneurial training for low-income youth

Image via FastCoexist


Growing up in a low-income family, Sabrina Mutuskina’s parents worked a dry cleaning business around the clock. Mutuskina spent most weekends there as a child, helping out by scrubbing collars, greeting customers and sending out mail.

Childhood experiences at her parents’ dry cleaners instilled in her a strong work ethic and a love for entrepreneurship. At university, Mutuskina realized that working from a young age had shaped much of her identity and made her passionate about connecting youth from financially needy families with jobs that valued their potential.

And thus, The Town Kitchen, a community-driven food company that employs low-income youth in Oakland, California, was born.

“I created The Town Kitchen to combine all of my passions: youth employment, small business and my love of food,” Mutuskina said.

The Bay Area-based company makes and delivers locally-sourced boxed lunches to consumers. But offering employment at a fair wage isn’t the only way the youth benefit; they’re also given social justice and entrepreneurial training through education partnerships.

Roger Dvalos, who The Town Kitchen named ‘employee of the month’ in October, joined the company in May 2015. Soon, Dvalos will be starting college at San Francisco State University.

“The Town Kitchen is a job where I constantly feel myself learning. I take the work seriously, but it’s more than a job, we all take care of one another inside and outside of the kitchen,” said Dvalos. “I have love for everybody at The Town Kitchen, it’s like a family to me.”

Mutuskina’s passion for inspiring an entrepreneurial spirit in youth stands loud and clear.

“Youth employment is important,” said Mutuskina. “We know that hiring low income, high potential youth means they are less likely to be incarcerated and more likely to graduate from high school.”

“We believe that building youth entrepreneurs means we’ll be bettering our community for years to come.”

Mothers run allergy-friendly food pantry for families with special diets

“When my oldest daughter was diagnosed with multiple food allergies, it really hit us in the pocketbook,” Emily Brown, the co-founder of Food Equality Initiative, told Nation Swell.

Food Equality Initiative, which runs ReNewed Health, an allergy-friendly food pantry in Kansas City, is the brainchild of Emily Brown and Amy Goode. The pair was prompted by their own struggles in finding affordable food for their children, who have severe allergies, to open the pantry. According to Brown, allergy-friendly and gluten-free food can be two to four times the cost of shopping for a regular diet.

“We realized there were a lot of people in the same boat as we were who couldn’t afford these foods,” said Goode.

Food Equality Initiative strives to create a safety net for low-income families who, on top of paying other bills, have the additional burden of budgeting for allergy-friendly foods. Often, federal assistance does not pay for these foods, making it hard for financially needy families to comply with the exorbitant cost of catering to a special diet.

The pantry serves clients who have one or more family members that are diagnosed with food allergies or celiac disease. In order to qualify, they must also demonstrate financial need.

Stocked by donations from food drives, manufacturers and the public, the pantry has distributed more than 12,350 pounds of allergy-friendly food since its inception in 2015.

Brown’s daughter was diagnosed with allergies to peanuts, milk, eggs, wheat and soy. Trips to the supermarket, where everything was expensive, and trips to the food pantry, where almost nothing fit her daughter’s diet, left her feeling frustrated.

“I work relentlessly to make sure that nobody in my city has to experience what I experienced,” said Brown.

“We would love to see our pantry model replicate all across the nation because we know this is a need that exists in every community, not just Kansas City,” said Brown.

NYC restaurant hires grandmothers to recreate taste of home

Hawa Jimiez hails from Liberia. She used to work a cleaning job, but now, she’s a chef at a restaurant in Staten Island, where she cooks up Liberian dishes and shares a taste of her country with the New York City crowd.


“I love cooking,” said Hawa Jimiez, a Liberian grandmother.


The restaurant she works at is called Enoteca Maria. Originally serving just Italian cuisine, Jody Scaravella, an Italian himself, started the restaurant when his mother and grandmother passed away, and he was left missing the comfort food he had grown up with.


Scaravella then put an advertisement out for Italian “nonnas” – or grandmothers – to cook at the restaurant. The response was overwhelming; seeing the concept take off and the joy it brought to diners knowing the food they’re eating is as authentic as they come, Scaravella began hiring “nonnas” from other countries too.


The main kitchen is staffed by at least one Italian “nonna”; downstairs, grandmothers from other countries take turns on a rotating basis, cooking up a storm when it’s their evening to shine.


On one night, the hearty dishes of Liberia – courtesy of Jimiez – might be on the menu. The next, diners may have their pick among Polish, Syrian or Nigerian specialties.


Since 2007, Enoteca Maria has proven itself to be a popular concept for diners longing for a simpler time; it’s also giving grandmothers employment in a skill they’ve honed with experience – dishing up food that’s straight from the heart.

Humans of New York ensure no one dines alone this Christmas


For the fourth year in a row, photojournalist project Humans of New York is doing its part to make sure everybody has a good Christmas, even if they may not have friends or family to celebrate with.

“Every holiday season we try to connect people in New York City who would like to share a holiday meal. Why? Because nothing is worse than being alone on Christmas or Hanukkah,” a post on Humans of New York’s Instagram reads.

The tradition, titled HONY for the Holidays, invites anyone with interest to send an email to HONY as a guest or a host; guests might have circumstances that force them to be alone this holiday season, and hosts might have extra room at the dinner table to feed a couple more mouths.

To facilitate good conversation over a hearty meal, HONY asks that guests and hosts share a little bit about themselves so that they can be aptly paired up. Practical concerns such as location and dietary restrictions are also factored in, and everyone is screened before matches are made.

Founder of Humans of New York Brandon Stanton understands the frustration of being on your own when everybody else in the world seems to be reuniting with loved ones. In an Instagram post two years ago when the initiative was being held for the second time, he recounted spending his first Christmas Eve in New York at a 24-hour diner, with no money to fly home.

Between colorful portraits of everyday New Yorkers and articulating their stories to millions of followers, Humans of New York continues to inspire with this wonderful project that seeks to promote solace and the spirit of giving back in a fast-paced city.

The Art of Sharing Food has been fighting against food waste and helping those struggling to afford a meal since it began in 2012. The Germany-based Internet platform allows users to post information about their leftovers, whether it’s an unfinished birthday cake or extra slices of pizza, for others in the area to share. 

People share food. No money should exchange hands here, because sharing also has an ethical dimension. We want to reinstate the spiritual, non-material value of food, because it is more than just a commodity,

Originally beginning with individuals giving away their leftover food, the popularity of the platform has seen shops and bakeries jumping on board too, donating their unsold food at the end of the day.

Website co-founder Valenthin Thurn says food waste costs the European economy more than USD130 billion every year, a number that gets much bigger when we take into account the entire world. By encouraging people to share the food they can’t finish, less food gets set to landfills, where the decomposition that takes place contributes to climate change.

With over 40,000 members in around 200 German cities as well as growing support in other countries, hopes that more and more people will understand the benefits of the sharing economy and recognize that we can all do our part to curb food waste.

For the love of food!

A post on France's conversation with food waste and what we can all learn from it.

France is home to more than just the language of love and the Eiffel Tower; the country passed a law earlier on this year that requires major supermarkets to donate unsold food to charities. Since then, supermarkets with retail space of more than 400 square meters have signed contracts with charities to donate food that is approaching its best-before date.

The law passed unanimously after a similar but looser law a year ago failed to see the results the country wanted to achieve. Now, supermarkets caught throwing away food instead of donating it will receive a fine of up to 75,000 euros or two years in prison.

This is a welcome addition to the world’s fight against food waste and poverty. Sell-by dates are merely an estimate of when the food passes its peak taste and best appearance, and most food is perfectly safe to eat after this date. Reducing food waste means we can cut down on food manufacturing as a whole, a move that will also help curb climate change.

In a world where growing food waste raises alarm about climate change and millions go hungry everyday, it doesn’t seem right that France is the only country with a law like this. The good news is that Italy is in the process of passing a similar regulation, and hopefully this law in France – which began as a local grassroots campaign – will inspire the rest of the world to follow suit.

Image credits to @shawnyeo  , founder of @seedandsoilsg  - filled with beautiful reminders to mindfully appreciate what we take in from the earth and what we give back.

#France #FoodWaste #ClimateChange #GreenMonday