Lee and a curious calico crisscross the country in a RV, living simply and sustainably.

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My friends are the best people I know. Not because they’re friends of mine, but because I SO admire and respect the way they walk their talk and do for the less fortunate in their communities. On a recent visit back to Tennessee, I met up with Aubrey, Mary, and Sam who all have contributed to the startup and ongoing success of One Acre Café. Based on the principle of “everyone deserves to eat”, more than 50 Community Cafés have blossomed around the country. I was fortunate enough to dine at and support two of them.

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One Ace Café in Johnson City, TN is housed in an unassuming storefront on a street dotted with small factories, corner stores, and pubs. Once you walk in the door, the grittiness of the street subsides and the overwhelming feeling is Calmness. The furnishings are modern, esthetically beautiful, and comfortable. Volunteers from the community and folks trading work for a meal prepare, cook, serve and clean up together. The menu features a half dozen or more gourmet options in two sizes. Mary and I both chose the vegetable quiche with a side salad. She shared some of her green beans, which had been picked that morning from the Carver Peace Garden, a community garden that Sam started years ago. The garden has donated a section to One Acre Café and provides a lot of the produce that nourishes the diners. Aubrey waited on our table and sat for a moment to catch up and fill me in on the progress of the diner. “This is a place where people can dine with dignity.”

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Mary kindly treated me for my birthday, and I donated the amount I was going to pay to “pay it forward”. There was a sign in the lobby showing other cafés around the country, and I vowed to visit the one in Denver next.

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My son and I stopped for lunch at the S.A.M.E. Café on E Colfax Ave in Denver. S.A.M.E. stands for “So All May Eat” and was the second café of it’s kind. It has been a model for subsequent eateries, and features fresh produce from a number of local farms in rotation. Our server showed us the menu for the day – a choice between two soups, two salads, and two flavors of pizza. They even offered gluten-free pizza made to order, which my son and I were really excited about, being wheat-free eaters.

There was no cash register, and when I returned for the rest of my meal, I slipped the server a $20, a donation for our delicious meal and some towards someone else’s.

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We dined alfresco, and mingled with folks who could not pay, or were working for their meal. The beautiful thing is that it doesn’t matter here. We all take turns in life supporting others, or being supported at times. In monetary ways, as well as in other important ways. There was a small table with a laptop computer set up in the lobby with a small note “For emails and job searches.”

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I hope to check out more Caring Community Cafés in my travels. I love the combination of giving back, enjoying a delicious meal, supporting small farmers, and reinforcing the efforts of volunteers. This is America at its best.

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Think: When is the last time you volunteered in your community? Decide what is most important to you – increasing literacy, feeding people, fostering a young person?

Say: This week commit to making a phone call or sending an email to sign up to help.

Do: Try on this volunteer position. If it’s a good fit, commit to returning once a week, or whenever your schedule allows. If it doesn’t feel right, find an alternate way to contribute.

Please: Share this post with three or more of your friends. If it has been helpful to you, it may be what someone else also needs to hear right now. Thank you!



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