BY SARAH HOLLOWAY – STAFF WRITER
Imagine an idyllic cottage café, cozy and brightened with flowers on every table, with blackboards highlighting a daily menu of locally sourced and often organic meals. An enticing aroma will pull you through the door, and you’ll notice only one thing missing from the charming restaurant—prices. In their place, a sign reads: “If your pockets are full, give a bit more. If your pockets are light, pay what you can. If you pockets are empty, please eat and enjoy a delicious, healthy meal in exchange for an hour of volunteer time.”
This is the reality of the Grace Café, one of Danville’s newest eateries and first nonprofit restaurant in Kentucky. Based on the model developed by the One World Everybody Eats Foundation, the Grace Café goes above and beyond to achieve its mission of ending hunger in Boyle County by boasting a menu with no set prices that changes daily. It is not affiliated with any religion or political agenda; its only goal is serving those in need of a healthy meal. Inspired by Jon Bon Jovi’s Soul Kitchen, Grace Café’s founder and executive director Rochelle Bayless has used her experience in nonprofit communications, fundraising, and graphic design to bring together her passions of service and feeding people.
Bayless came to Danville soon after receiving her master’s from Hartford Seminary.
With her thesis, titled “A Theology of Food: Seeing Food as Acts of Grace,” still fresh in her mind, she began exploring poverty and food spirituality in Boyle County. She saw need in Danville and felt as though she was brought here for a reason. According to the nation’s leading domestic hungerrelief charity Feeding America, Kentucky ranked 4th highest in the nation for poverty in 2012. Hitting even closer to home, of the 16,000 Danville citizens, 24.8 percent are considered food insecure, meaning they don’t know where their next meal will come from.
This puts many, especially those with multiple mouths to feed, in the compromising position of choosing the cheapest meal they can get on a limited budget. In today’s society, cheap is synonymous with high in fat and low in nutrition, no doubt contributing to the 31 percent obesity rate in Boyle County.
Bayless believes that everyone deserves the chance to eat a healthy meal and to be treated with dignity—regardless of their economic status. With this philosophy, her professional background in nonprofit organizations, and her dedication to service, Bayless was able to set the idea in motion and create the Grace Café. Those in the Danville community who were inspired by her actions offered help in the form of donations and volunteer service.
“This is my ministry,” Bayless said. “The church of food.”
In addition to being healthconscious, the Grace Café is also mindful of the environment.
“We get our food from as close as possible,” Bayless said. “Only if something we need isn’t available in Boyle County do we look for the next closest resource.”
This not only minimizes the café’s environmental impact but also bolsters the local economy and creates more local jobs. Grace Café monitors its carbon footprint in other ways as well, such as not offering take out boxes to avoid extra expense and minimize waste. While it is a challenge to maintain a high quality restaurant in a trust-based community, Bayless views it as an opportunity to restore dignity to charity, to be creative, and to make Danville a healthier and stronger city. According to senior Marie-Veronique Poirier, one of the café’s frequent volunteers: “It’s not about making sure people pay, it’s about making sure people get fed.”
Centre students have played an important role in getting the café where it is today. Junior and Bonner Scholar Regan Devlin was a member of the group that spent their summer preparing the Grace Café for opening. Like many others, she fell in love with its mission and recently took an internship position there.
“It was an awesome experience,” she said. “The best part was getting to know the people in Danville, it was cool to feel like a member of the community instead of just going to school here.”
Anyone, including Centre students, can get involved. Volunteers are needed on a daily basis to bus and wait tables and clean, among other activities. Simply eating in the restaurant helps—simply enjoy a delicious meal, pay what you feel it was worth, and spread the word. The more people who know about the Grace Café, the more people get fed.
You can follow the café on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and share these acts of grace using the hashtags #GraceKyWorks, #FeedBoCo, and #EverybodyEats. Even the smallest gesture can mean so much to someone who is in need, as the hope and relief that this café brings to the Danville community is, in a word, priceless.