Mae Stuart submitted her idea for Coffee Cruisers, while Ella Sanders submitted her idea for a Community Café. They were two of the twenty winners to receive grants of $2,500.
“Obviously, we are very proud of Ella and Mae – not only for winning the grants, but for working on their own initiative to create innovative, interesting, involving projects that will help better merge the University and community. Well done!” said Dr. Gregory O’Dea, Director of the Brock Scholars Program.
Mae Stuart, a freshman and a Brock Scholar, won the grant for her Coffee Cruisers idea. She’ll partner with Bike Chattanooga to lead students on bike tours that introduce them to coffee shops and more downtown.
“I realized that none of my roommates were from Chattanooga, and most of my fellow freshman Brock Scholars weren’t either, and I am. So I thought I would take them on tours so they would know where to go in town, and that kind of transformed into the idea of how to get UTC students in general out into the community,” said Stuart. “Coffee shops are a place that college students can just go and study or socialize or whatever they need to do. The broader idea is to get students into the downtown area and aware of local businesses.”
The tours will either be given free or for a nominal fee and come with a 24-hour bike pass so that students can continue to explore downtown once the tour is over. Stuart is also in talks with area businesses to possibly provide free samples to students on the Coffee Cruisers tours.
“I hope that these tours will lead to more than just coffee shops – I hope students will learn that downtown Chattanooga’s not that far away, it’s right there for them to engage with. We should be there. The more connection between UTC and Chattanooga, the better for all of us,” said Stuart.
Ella Sanders, a junior nonprofit management major and a Brock Scholar, won her grant for her Community Café idea.
The nonprofit café will run on a “pay as you can” principle – each meal will have a suggested donation, but patrons can also pay with their time. People can volunteer for an hour in the café in exchange for one meal voucher, performing tasks such as cleaning, bussing, or food prep.
“It’s not a hand out, because you’ve earned your meal. We want people to feel dignified and sit down to eat with everyone else,” said Sanders. “And anyone can come and donate their time in exchange for a meal voucher. We really hope to be able to help Chattanooga’s homeless population, but it isn’t limited to that. Anyone can volunteer, like a college student who doesn’t have the money right now.”
Sanders was inspired to start the café by similar ones around the country.
“I had visited a community café in Jackson, Tennessee, and thought that it was something that Chattanooga needs,” said Sanders. “And I follow Causeway on Facebook and I saw that they were having the challenge, and I thought this would be a great idea for it.”
Elizabeth Ayers, junior social work major, is partnering with Sanders to make the café a reality.
“Ella told me about it and I’m really interested in the homelessness issue. I thought this idea was amazing. I kept thinking about it and was so excited. I wanted to help make it happen,” said Ayers.
“We’re trying to connect people to healthier options, so we’re preparing the freshest meals we can for anyone who wants to come and eat,” said Sanders. “We are trying to stick with fresh food, so we’re hoping we can partner with local bakeries and stores as well as farms.”
“There aren’t a lot of places you can go to get fresh healthy food that aren’t expensive. Because the food is donated, we will be able to keep prices lower. We want it to be affordable but healthy,” said Ayers.
Sanders’s stepfather raises cattle, and has already donated a whole beef to get them started.
“I asked my mom if she could store it for me for the time being. I don’t have enough room in my Lockmiller freezer,” said Sanders.
So far, Sanders and Ayers plan to serve breakfast and lunch, with meals like omelets, sandwiches, soups. The café’s menu will constantly be changing, rotating with the food that is donated and the produce that is in season. Sanders and Ayers are going to be the primary cooks, and they are planning to attend cooking classes to diversify their recipes. They hope to eventually be able to have a chef to do the cooking and a broader variety of recipes once they have a permanent kitchen.
Initially, there will be two pop up cafes. These will be one day events at a temporary location to spread the word about the Community Café and to gauge public response. Sanders and Ayers are in the process of finding a permanent location for the café, hopefully centrally located downtown along the CARTA bus routes.
“We’ve had a lot of interest from the UTC community, and we would love for them to come out and support us. We really just need people to show up and to be a part of this, to volunteer but also just sit and eat a meal with a stranger,” said Sanders. “We really want to establish a community hub where people of all walks of life can come and share a meal together. Chattanooga is so community minded, and there’s such a sense of giving, that I don’t think we will have a hard time finding people who want to give their time or in-kind.”