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June 10, 2022

Eat well and do good: MAKE Projects, a California non-profit, helps refugees thrive in San Diego

In San Diego’s North Park neighborhood, a local non-profit is providing opportunities for resettled refugee women and youth to gain valuable work experience and on-the-job training while helping them grow roots in their new community.

MAKE Projects self-describes its organization as an “employment social enterprise,” but the mission is much more personal — it’s about creating a more inclusive community and helping refugees prepare for brighter futures in their new homes. 

“We employ refugee and immigrant women and youth as job training participants,” shares Anche Mei, Executive Director of MAKE Projects. “They [trainees] get paid work experience. They get real-world on-the-job training,” Mei continues. 

“A lot of what we do is informed by our participants and the amazing cultural assets they bring, the amazing food cultures, the hard work ethic, and just the grit to rebuild their whole life here.” 

The seed idea for MAKE Projects' current program grew out of two initiatives — PROJECT Chop and Youth FarmWorks —  that sought to engage refugee and immigrant communities in San Diego. By 2017, the FarmWorks project opened the community garden at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church (now home to all MAKE Projects initiatives) and the renovation of a communal kitchen in the basement of the church soon followed.

The farm program alone has provided hundreds of refugee and immigrant youth with critical job readiness skills.

Today, MAKE Projects operates an urban farm, an outdoor restaurant, caters events and runs a neighborhood CSA. Dinners and a weekly brunch at MAKE Cafe feature a globally inspired menu drawn from the various cultures and ethnicities of refugees working at MAKE Projects. 

“Food is the perfect conversation starter and the soft skills that are gained by the trainees, the skills that are harder to define, will translate to any future jobs,” says Andrew Gerdes, Senior Chef, and Trainer.

One of those soft skills MAKE Projects hope all trainees build is self-confidence. For many trainees, MAKE Projects is their first formal employment and the first time they are speaking English in public. 

While many graduates of the trainee program will pursue work in restaurants and customer service, MAKE Projects' goal is to help trainees prepare themselves to achieve their dreams in any field they choose. 

How can you help

USA for UNHCR stands with refugees resettling in the U.S. and supports allies, like MAKE Projects, who are helping build more inclusive communities. With your generosity, more refugees will have the opportunity to build a peaceful life and give their families a bright future.