Using Food as a Tool for Social Change

Jesse Fuller was hungry to change his life. He wanted a job. He wanted a home—though hard times meant he was living in a San Francisco shelter. Then he met Farming Hope cofounder Kevin Madrigal, who gave him a job cooking and gardening. And Fuller’s life changed.

“It all started out with Farming Hope; it got me to where I wanted to do something for myself,” Fuller says. “I realized I didn’t have to give up.”

Giving homeless people hope and purpose is exactly what Madrigal and cofounder Jamie Stark had in mind for their startup non-profit. In January 2017, they began working with their first cohort of employees. In April 2017, We Raise Foundation awarded Stark an Emerging Leader Grant for his vision.

“Receiving this grant has helped me by increasing my confidence in our program’s potential,” Stark says. “With the support of We Raise, I know I have people who support our potential and our actual impact.”

Since receiving the grant, Farming Home added another garden (for a total of four gardens), hired 12 people, and expanded periodic pop-up dinners into bi-weekly events at a shared café space in downtown San Francisco—serving an average of 32 people each time.

The pop-up dinners include sophisticated menus, with such items as seared mushroom red potato tostada and roasted broccoli with honey sriracha. They also feature diverse diners (some homeless, some guests paying $55/ticket) sitting down together for a meal. Stark hopes the unique mix of people will create empathy and understanding—and perhaps lead to a shift in their perceptions.

After cooking and gardening with Farming Hope, Fuller showed real promise for leadership. But before they could promote him, Whole Foods hired Fuller for a full-time job. He’s proud to be the first Farming Hope employee to be hired by an outside organization so quickly. And he’s grateful for the opportunity—maybe someday realizing his goal of being a manager.

“Regardless of what happens, I feel good about myself—I’m being the real me,” Fuller says. “Cooking makes me feel good when I can look out there and see everyone else enjoying my meal.”

Thank you for supporting leaders like Farming Hope’s Jamie Stark, who sees food as a way to help people find jobs and work their way out of homelessness.

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