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Fredericksburg’s pay-as-you-can cafe helps the homeless

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Darlene Ingels hopes to be a line cook in a fancy restaurant in downtown Fredericksburg someday. But during the lunch rush this Tuesday, she’s making chicken salad sandwiches on croissants in the kitchen of a Baptist church, also known as the Micah Community Cafe. She likes that cooking keeps her busy, not to mention the compliments she gets on the food. She also likes that when she finishes the café’s training program, she’ll earn her ServSafe certification.

“It’s something useful for me because down the road, once I get that food handling certificate, (I) can start making more money than the average person,” she said. “Micah’s been helpful —  they’re really a good group of people for the people that need a helping hand.”

The café is the latest project of Micah Ecumenical Ministries, a group of Christian churches, including St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church in Fredericksburg, that banded together to care for the local homeless population. The organization is supported in part by the diocesan Catholic Campaign for Human Development. 

They offer case management that helps the homeless finds jobs, a place to stay and furniture.

The organization also hosts a cold weather shelter in the winter and nightly free dinners year-round. Members of all the churches volunteer to make the meals possible. “Everyone is invited to come and eat. If you’re lonely, if you’ve fallen on hard times, no questions asked, just come,” said Elena Doyle, executive assistant and outreach director of St. Mary. 

The Micah Community Cafe, which is open for lunch on Tuesdays and Thursdays, is a pay-what-you-can restaurant, said cafe Manager Mike Morrison. There are suggested amounts for the soups, sandwiches, drinks and sides, but you can pay more than that or nothing at all. Their doors opened a year ago, and they now serve up to 200 clients a day, Morrison said. Randall Brooks, a frequent diner, recommends the Reuben sandwich or the Gobbler, a Thanksgiving-inspired hoagie. 

Volunteers and those hoping to get food prep experience keep the café running smoothly. “Anybody that wants can come be in the (ServSafe) program but it’s mostly focused for our Micah clients, more along the lines of the homeless community,” said Morrison. Several of the program’s graduates have jobs in the food service industry, but they still stay connected to Micah. 

Darlene Ingels makes chicken salad sandwiches in the kitchen. ZOEY MARAIST  |  CATHOLIC HERALD

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“The guy back there, he was one of my first students and he’s now like my sous chef. I can’t get rid of him. We’ve gotten him jobs but he tells them, ‘I can’t work Tuesday and Thursdays because I’ve got to be at the cafe,’ ” said Morrison. “One of the girls who works back there works at Waffle House. She’s off today so she came back to help.”

Morrison has worked his whole life in the food service industry, but he’s glad the food he makes here betters the lives of the guests and his fellow cooks. “The churches that started up Micah, I just think that’s the best,” he said. “A lot of people are trying to push these (homeless) people away —  get them out of the streets, get them out of our faces. These churches are together and embracing it, and I love that.”

If you go

The Micah Community Cafe, located at 1016 Caroline St., Fredericksburg, is open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesday and Thursday. To find out more, call 540/841-3263 or go to micahfredericksburg.org.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018