A chat with Loretta Bolotin, founder of Free to Feed.
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How did you become involved in Free-To-Feed?
I co-founded Free to Feed with my husband in 2016. A decade of working and volunteering in the refugee sector hadn’t quelled my desire to find better ways to support people seeking asylum, resettle here in Australia.
I felt passionate then – as I do now – that the way we treat our newest community members, who have surmounted unspeakable odds and challenges to be with us, speaks volumes about who we are as a society. And unfortunately, this is an area that has reflected poorly on us as a nation.
However, we both felt strongly – and this has borne out to be true! – that the political response, or the often-hysterical media portrayals, did not truly reflect people’s responses and attitudes to people seeking asylum here, and indeed that many Australians just needed opportunities to connect with and to better understand them for the beginnings of a more tolerant and inclusive society to emerge. That’s why we started Free to Feed.
What is Free to Feed all about?
Free to Feed is a nurturing, supportive, safe, trauma-informed workplace for people seeking asylum and refugees. We are passionate about supporting people seeking asylum and refugees through paid training and employment because they face significant barriers to accessing employment, including being on temporary visas, qualifications from a home country being undervalued, language challenges and of course social isolation.
We welcome people seeking asylum and refugees with fantastic food skills and knowledge into an Australian workplace, providing them with skills and experiences that set them up for continued employed. Research has shown that being part of a workplace is one of the most powerful ways of achieving social inclusion.
How do you recruit new cooks? How do they find out about it?
We generally receive applicants either through word of mouth or through agencies that provide support to refugees and people seeking asylum.
What are some of the services you offer through Free to Feed?
At Free to Feed we create incredible food experiences and events for the community that are of such an exceptional standard, achieving both thoughtful and enlightened hospitality while achieving strong social impact.
Our cooking experiences are special as they provide the opportunity for a deep dive into the cuisine and stories of a particular cook and their home country cuisine. Guests create an entire menu together from starters to desserts and then dine and get to know each other. People book in cooking experiences as intimate gatherings of families or friends at their homes, or for a group of colleagues at their workplace.
We also have a vibrant catering and events team, which curate incredible food and events and provide outstanding service.
All of the work we do is thoughtfully crafted and showcases our strength in providing food and service that is true to our value of enlightened hospitality while supporting people seeking asylum to truly shine.
Why is Free to Feed important?
We’ve managed to build a program based on the principles of social and economic inclusion, knowing that a handout of money or food to people on the peripheries of the social and economic spheres does little to effect lasting change. So, I think our strengths-based approach to working with people is really important: it enables people to shine, to be proud of their work and culture, to self-advocate, and move themselves gradually toward a more stable livelihood.
The other incredible thing is the amount of interest and support we’ve received from the community. Compared to our feeling of despondency when we began Free to Feed about prevailing attitudes towards people seeking asylum in Australia, it turns out that you only need to scratch beneath the surface to find so much good will and curiosity out there!
Of course, we have a long way to go as a nation, but every day we see the ingredients of a beautiful and fragrant stew of social and economic inclusion!
Tell us about Brave Meals
Brave Meals are a delicious rotating menu of prepared meals, either home-delivered or available for pick up from our Northcote HQ. It has been fantastic to be able to continue providing employment in the kitchen for participants through the crisis as a result of Brave Meals. People seeking asylum are excluded from government assistance and so this is a very important initiative to maintain support at this critical juncture.
What can people do to support FTF?
We are now working hard to slowly and safely re-engage and support all our program participants. We’re undergoing a “re-awakening” of sorts which means there are once again numerous fun ways you can engage and support us. We are social creatures, and we’ve missed the support and connection. Currently, you can help us by:
1) Getting in touch with Free to Feed next time you need event catering for your dinner parties, birthdays, weddings, we have a super creative and delicious catering menu for all your post isolation get-togethers. You can even book our space and host your party at our HQ!
2) Consider an intimate deep-dive into one of our participant cook’s life and recipes by booking a Free to Feed Home Experience. You provide the kitchen, friends and dining table and we bring the recipes, all ingredients, equipment and stories. The empathy and knowledge generated in a Free to Feed Home Experience last a lifetime. This intimate vessel is how Free to Feed all began (hosting dinners in homes all over Melbourne), and we can’t recommend them enough as a unique way to gather with friends and family once again!
3) By directly donating to our participants. Donations go directly towards providing relief and support for those recently hardest hit in the form of, prepared meals and essential psychosocial support.
4) Follow us on our social accounts or subscribe to our newsletters filled with recipes, events and stories.
Find Free to Feed on Instagram here and Facebook here
Spread the word – tell anyone and everyone looking for unique food experiences, classes or catering about Free to Feed. Our gift vouchers also make great birthday presents!
Visit Free to Feed website: https://www.freetofeed.org.au/
Gift Vouchers here: https://www.freetofeed.org.au/brave-meals-gift-vouchers
Donate here: https://www.freetofeed.org.au/donate
What impact do you see FTF having on the community?
Free to Feed provides an opportunity for the community to come together and collectively demonstrate its empathy, curiosity and support for people seeking asylum and refugees. In doing so, people are also enabling our participants to build real employment skills and experiences that will underpin more stable livelihoods. Since 2016 Free to Feed has provided around $500,000 in wages to support the livelihoods of families who are seeking asylum in Australia.
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