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Sri Lankan Dinner Courtesy Free to Feed
Sri Lankan Dinner Courtesy Free to Feed

This Melbourne Social Enterprise is Helping Refugees in An Innovative Way

Picture of Monique La Terra
Updated: 26 August 2017

Founded by Loretta and Daniel Bolotin, Free to Feed is a not-for-profit organization that assists refugees and new migrants by engaging them in food-based enterprises. Culture Trip spoke with Loretta about the entrepreneurial characteristics of refugees, food appreciation and the impact of sharing authentic cultural experiences in the kitchen.

What inspired the Free to Feed concept?

Free to Feed is the culmination of years of work within the refugee sector where I gained an appreciation into the social isolation and workplace discrimination/barriers faced by people seeking asylum and refugees. We believe that refugees and people seeking asylum have the ability to enrich Australian society culturally and make positive economic contributions, whether that be as hardworking and loyal employees or as entrepreneurs and self-starters. Free to Feed is about sharing and showcasing the incredible cultures that make up the diverse tapestry that is Victoria and giving refugees and people seeking asylum a platform to share their story, their identity and their incredible food knowledge.

Courtesy of Free to Feed

How does Free to Feed enrich the lives of refugees?

Free to Feed (cooking school and events) provides employment to people seeking asylum and refugees in a positive workplace, where learning and experimentation are prioritised and each employee is recognised for their own unique skill set and experiences. We also support and nurture entrepreneurial refugees and new migrants to explore and launch their own start-up ventures through Now to Launch. Through Free to Feed cooking classes and events, people seeking asylum and refugees are able to connect with local Australians, make friends and share their traditional cooking practices and cultures.

What do you hope people will take away from these classes?

We don’t have any particular pre-packaged, take-home message. People are encouraged to be curious and take away what they feel they’ve gained/learned, whether that be a bunch of delicious new recipes, understanding a new culture, an appreciation for pomegranates, an understanding of the refugee experience, a sense of belong and like-mindedness with fellow participants, an appreciation of house-blended spices, outrage at political policies, sadness, inspiration, an appreciation for human resilience, a passion for cooking, a sense of hopelessness and a full belly! Anything is possible!

Courtesy of Free to Feed

Loretta, you’ve worked in the refugee sector previously. How does this role differ from your past experiences?

This role is super creative, very fulfilling, incredibly demanding, self-driven, and I am learning new things and stretching myself every single day. I am also seeing real impact both on a community level and in our individual instructors/cooks.

Considering that food has the power to unite people, how has this program changed public attitude towards refugees?

Everyone that comes to our classes walks away having met a real human with lived experience of the refugee/asylum seeker journey. I prefer not to make assumptions, but I think the Free to Feed experience of sharing a kitchen, collectively cooking and hearing a person’s story is definitely a way to change the conversation around refugee issues.

Can you tell us a success story?

There are so many small successes every day! All Free to Feed cooks/instructors transform, learn and grow so much; it’s a great evolution to observe! Watch this space. We think there are going to be some pretty amazing refugee-powered food start-ups born in the next 12 months.

Courtesy of Free to Feed