This festive season we were honoured to share a lunch with the inspiring not-for-profit social enterprise, Free to Feed. Founded by husband and wife duo Loretta and Daniel Bolotin in 2015, Free to Feed exists to provide training and meaningful employment for people seeking asylum and refugees through the creation of shared food experiences.
We spoke to the Team and Free to Feed to learn more about their story.
Please tell us about Free to Feed and how the organisation came to be?
Free to Feed empowers people seeking asylum and refugees to live meaningful, connected and productive lives in Australia, using food as the language of love. The idea for the social enterprise was formed out of a palpable sense of dismay and hope in 2015. After a decade working and volunteering in refugee services, Loretta (our CEO and co-Founder) witnessed first hand the heartbreaking effects that social isolation and employment barriers kept having on her clients’ resettlement experiences in Australia. Yet, she also witnessed their eyes light up and their talents shine, when cooking and sharing their traditional food.
Free to Feed now delivers three trauma-informed programs, each designed to support people seeking asylum and refugees to overcome their personal barriers to employment through food. The programs are having a truly profound impact not just on the people we employ, but equally for their families and communities too. And while the financial impact is key, we’re also so humbled by the many other immeasurable ways in which what we do is able to make a meaningful difference amongst our participants – think soaring confidence, feelings of welcome and acceptance, the pride to share their cultures, stories and homes with the Australian community, and all the love and warmth and kindness they receive from all who partake!
L - The Free To Feed Warehouse Space. R, CEO and Co-Founder of Free To Feed, Loretta
How does the team at Free To Feed celebrate festive holidays with the diversity of people working together?
We are deeply guided by the diversity of cultures and religions practiced by our participants, always wanting to find more ways to recreate pieces of home. Guided by their knowledge and traditions, we’ve hosted a few beautiful participant-led events with our community, inviting both family and friends to celebrate the likes of Eid and Nowruz (Persian New Year).
How does the concept of a shared cooking and dining experience link in with Free to Feed’s ethos?
A woman named Kim recently described one of our community cooking experiences as “a heartfelt meal with strangers” beautifully capturing everything we do in these five little words. To us, a full table looks a little something like this – an array of colours and dishes elegantly garnished with so much pride, a nod to both tradition and love.
Our feasts, whether part of our experiences or through our catering, are more than just food though, they’re stories, gently rolled, stirred and folded by the people we are honoured to work with. Our recipes are layered with memories of loved ones, of lost ones, of homes that are no more. There are memories of hardship and struggles, of forever goodbyes. There are tears of sadness mixed in, tears of hope, of relief, of safety, of starting all over again. There are moments of kindness, of gatherings, of hugs that warm the soul. There are dreams in this food, folded into the pastries, courageous journeys and gratitude sprinkled amongst the seasoning.
Our advocacy comes to life through these stories, these meals and these moments of deeply intimate connection shared between strangers.
IMAGE - The ELK Team recently shared a community dining experience at Free To Feed.
Our seasonal message this year is “the gift of giving”, what does this mean to Free To Feed?
Our participants over the years have come from such vastly different places across the world, and yet again and again, they teach us the same true meaning of hospitality, and how generous it really is. From always making an extra plate of food for those who go without, to sentiments of putting love into everything you do, to grandmothers making breakfast for their entire family as a beautiful shared moment before school, work and life begins each day.
They have shown us that food really is a gift, because of the wisdom, the generations passed, and the bravery and ritual it holds within. And what an honour it is to be invited to the table.
IMAGE - Dishes from Free To Feed and ELK's shared lunch inspired by the rich cultures present in the Free To Feed Team.
We loved meeting Yuliia, Halima and Akram when we visited. How does Free to Feed share their stories and integrate their cultures into the experiences on offer?
We’ve found that for many migrants, food is the first home they find in Australia, recreating beloved dishes and filling kitchens with the delicate smells of their memories, the flavours and ingredients adapting and changing to wherever they land. Honouring this process, our catering menus are always a tapestry of the cultures represented across our program, embedding recipes and diverse techniques learnt from the people within our kitchen. Both Yuliia and Halima, the cooks for the ELK lunch, are new to our catering team, and with time, they too will be reflected in our changing menus.
For someone who has never been in contact with Free to Feed, what would you recommend as the first experience to be involved in?
I would recommend starting with one of our community cooking experiences! Our cooking experiences are at the core of what we do, an invitation to explore beautiful places in Iran, Afghanistan, Burma (to name a few) - the smells, the foods, the culture - all while sitting around our humble table. They’re fun, hands-on and incredibly thought-provoking, offering an endearing journey to someplace new. You’ll share this experience with strangers, celebrating each other's lives and stories even if just for a moment.
You’ll learn how to cook an entire menu from the instructor’s culture, coming together at the end to enjoy this special feast you’ve created communally - what more could you ask for?!
L, Free To Feed Cooking Instructor, Akram prepares entrees. R, Free To Feed Chef Halima share culturally rich dishes.
The Free to Feed enterprise is growing and building in so many ways, what is coming up next for you?
We have a beautiful new venue in North Fitzroy, which provides us with so many possibilities. We’re hoping to host as many celebrations and feasts there as we can! We have also started delivering a brand new pre-employment program which will be engaging over 100 participants every year!. This is a significant increase to the number of people we support. Our sights are firmly set on increasing the flow of wages straight to empowering people seeking asylum.
We just recently celebrated reaching the million dollar milestone, which is huge for such a tiny team!