Chow Bella

Helpings Cafe in Phoenix Serves Good Food and Opportunities

Since April, Valley residents have been eating for a good cause at Arizona's largest homeless shelter.

Helpings Cafe is located at UMOM New Day Centers on Van Buren Street, where trainees from the shelter go through a six- or nine-week training program to gain work experience.

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Helpings serves hot and cold Starbucks beverages, salads, sandwiches, and muffins. They also have a catering option available, with boxed lunches or sandwich and salad platters.

The café used to be the home of Spinners, a '50s themed diner. Now the cafe gives off a relaxed vibe with neutral walls and pops of orange in the design.

In the back corner of the cafe is a mini-market where Kate Thoene, social enterprise officer for UMOM, says families in the neighborhood will be able to purchase basic groceries.

"This geographic area has been designated as a food desert by the USDA," Thoene said. "And a food desert is an area where people have very little access to fresh and healthy foods. So we thought about adding that market piece for groceries."

Thoene described how families often walk after sunset to the local Circle K for groceries because the convenience store takes food stamps, and because of the market's proximity to their homes. Helpings Café will also take food stamps and sell produce, bread, dairy and other "staple food items."

Whether customers purchase a coffee, muffin, salad or sandwich, all proceeds go right back into helping homeless families. Inside the café is a large marquee that illustrates how purchases go toward those in need. For example, a muffin and coffee goes toward an asthma inhaler for a homeless child; drip coffee supplies school pencils for a homeless child; and one dozen muffins provides dinner for one homeless family.

Helpings Cafe offers a six-week barista training program so trainees can gain work experience in making drinks, food safety practices, customer service, and cashiering. A nine-week food service training program is also offered. Trainees learn dish washing, and prep and line cooking.

Every time a customer comes in, they are giving the trainees the opportunity to work on the cash register, make drinks and cook, Thoene said.

"It's not really that we're serving the homeless population. We're serving people who are experiencing homelessness . . . that doesn't define who they are. They need a hand up to get back up on their feet. We're not giving them a handout," Thoene said.

The cafe menu includes sandwiches like the PBLT with roasted pork loin, peppered bacon, tomato, avocado, Gorgonzola mayo and mixed greens. Eight salad options are available, including the grilled chicken salad with grilled chicken, cucumber, roasted red pepper, roasted tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil pesto vinaigrette.

The muffins are the number-one seller at Helpings Café, said Thoene, and are made fresh daily. All muffins are banana based, so they stay moist longer. A s'mores option, Dutch apple crumble and espresso mocha chip are among the flavors.

"I hope people understand that it's more than a cafe . . . It's really giving hope and some purpose for people who need a hand up," Thoene said. "So if you're going to get a Starbucks anyways, you can really do so much more by coming here."

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Natalie Miranda