If things go well for the Social Impact Cafe, you might enjoy a nutritious meal in a brand-new space.  

Founded by Ericka L. Stewart, Social Impact Cafe is a community organization that aims to empower youth, promote food literacy and provide marginalized communities with access to quality food. Stewart is one of ten finalists for the city’s Making Space Program, an initiative to provide select community-minded entrepreneurs free commercial space within a recreation center. 

Social Impact Cafe currently operates out of the recreation center Pleasant Playground on Chew Ave. and has traveled to serve communities in over 33 zip codes. If Stewart is selected for the program, Social Impact Cafe will be able to operate a permanent commercial space in a community recreation center. This would enable community members to get the most out of their experience with the organization and play a role in its future..

“I want to host a vision board dinner and have people come into this space and have a setup, maybe like pasta or family style, where everyone is waiting patiently for food that’s in the middle, “Stewart said. “But everybody has a placemat, and on that placemat I will ask the people attending the dinner what they want this space to look like. And I will take one thing from each of those placemats that people draw on and make sure those things are in there.”

Social Impact Cafe has previously partnered with other community organizations, like Avenues Cafe in Mt. Airy. Stewart worked alongside Avenues Cafe owner Lee Locklear to host a pay-what-you-can farmer’s market and turkey giveaway for  Thanksgiving.

“For some people, what they could pay was nothing. And that was part of the initiative, this ability to get people fresh veggies, fresh fruit.” Locklear said. 

Locklear also expressed excitement that people would return to the cafe and share what dishes they made with the food they had received. “It really warms my heart to be able to give that amount of food away to the community, knowing that it’s gonna go to people that are really going to need it.”

With the new space, Stewart hopes to focus particularly on helping young people prepare food for themselves and believes that a quality meal is a crucial step in breaking cycles of trauma. 

“If you break a cycle, you have to start at the beginning of a cycle. Most people try to break a cycle when the wheel’s already spinning. ‘Let’s focus on gun violence. Let’s focus on truancy.’ Let’s focus on, ‘did the young man eat breakfast today?’”

Stewart is a survivor of 9 out of 10 Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), which include traumatic childhood experiences like violence and neglect, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and takes great pride in becoming a community leader after facing such adversity. “I turned out to be an amazing person after fighting through all those trials and tribulations,” Stewart says. And her peers agree.

“Ericka has been a trooper. I’ve watched her take people under her wing and really give them an opportunity to help others, which ends up helping themselves,” Locklear said. “I just think that her presence and her ability to connect with the community is so fast that if she had the opportunity, she could really make an impact in the community.”

The winners of the Making Space program will be announced in April. In the meantime, Stewart is hosting “Fresh Food on the 1st Saturday” alongside other events planned by Pleasant Playground on Saturday April 1st. 

The event is free, with senior shopping hours beginning at 10 a.m. and opening to the public at 11 a.m.