No one is turned away from two Kentucky cafes that let diners “pay what you can”

Spirit of the Bluegrass
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(WDKY-TV)– “Food insecurity” is a term that defines the state of not having consistent access to the type of food that leads to a healthy lifestyle. That describes about 18 percent of Kentucky’s population.

Five years ago, Rochelle Bayless decided to do something about it in a direct and daily way. She founded Grace Cafe in Danville.

For three hours each day, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Grace Cafe is one of the busiest restaurants in Danville. But it’s not profitable.

The prices on the menu are just suggestions. Some people pay more, others pay less, and some people choose to volunteer 30 minutes of their time in exchange for a meal.

It’s all handled discreetly. No one knows how much someone else is giving.

Bayless says there are lots of ways people can volunteer. People greet customers at the door; they wrap silverware, clear tables and sweep the floors.  Some do those things to pay for meals; others do it just because they like the cafe’s mission.

This was the state’s first pay-it forward cafe and it took the community a while to recognize it was for everyone– homeless people eat alongside bankers and attorneys.

Bayless said “We are not a soup kitchen. We serve a level of food that is high- end, fresh quality.

The cafe is a a godsend to people who sometimes don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

Hazel Webb comes everyday with her two children. She has a job but it doesn’t bring in enough to cover all the bills.

“It’s helped us out tremendously. We’ve made it through quite a few hardships by being able to come here,” she said. Webb says if the cafe didn’t exists, her family would be eating a lot more peanut butter sandwiches.

Joe Byrd agrees. He finds himself homeless at the moment and said “If not for this place, I’d starve.”  He helps out by picking up trash outside the cafe.

About a year ago, Versailles joined the fight against food insecurit, using Grace Cafe as a model. Spark Community Cafe was born out of a Woodford County High School class called community activism.

Tristan Ferrell wanted to do something to help his hometown and convinced his teacher, Kyle Fannin, that a “pay-it-forward” cafe could work there. They found a great space on Main Street and remodeled it into a restuarant that gets great reviews on Yelp and draws tourists off the interstate.

Ferrell believes many people wouldn’t come to the cafe if there wasn’t some way for them to pay bacl.

“Having it be a hand up rather than a handout where folks are expected to participate and exchange something for their meal has been really important in getting us more of our target  audience that actually needs the help,” he said.

Fannin said the cafe owes a lot if its success to local farmers. The food here isn’t frozen and doesn’t come from cans.

 “When you have a salad, the lettuce was picked that morning,” Fannin said.  “In late summer and early fall, 90 percent of what was on plates was from farms within 30 miles of this restaurant.”

Both cafes get great reviews for their food and ambiance, but the best thing on the menu is compassion, which is served up in huge portions.

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Here are links to both cafes, for more information:

Grace Cafe, Danville

Spark Community Cafe, Versailles

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