Three years ago, I became a homeless homeowner and an unemployed graphic designer. I had no idea how hard it would be to live in my car. I thought it would be like camping for a while until I found a place to stay. Yeah, right.

I was astounded at the impossible housing situation. I had fled an abusive relationship and needed to heal from the trauma in a safe, nourishing space. Instead, I found myself scrabbling on the street, wondering each day if I would ever live like a normal person again. This lasted a year. I tried to find work, but I couldn’t think. Brain injuries prevented me from functioning.

I needed nutrition. Good, healthy, fresh food. I went to the food bank twice a week, but I had no way of cooking the vegetables or the frozen meals. Sometimes I would find a packaged salad and some fruit. I had no way of refrigerating anything, so there was no point in carrying around more food than I could eat in a day.

The meals provided by the social service agencies often made me sick because I had reactions to dairy and other ingredients they were using.

FoCo Cafe has provided my body with cell-regenerating nutrition. And it’s been more: It’s been a place where I’ve received respect. Where I’ve been welcomed, not shooed away like a stray cat.

Thanks to this amazing little cafe, I’ve been able to rebuild my life. I love that they trade in all kinds of currency: money, local farm-grown veggies, kitchen and garden help, live music … and that they’re committed to the community that helped them begin this pay-what-you-can adventure.

The community includes the next generation. Over the past three years, I’ve witnessed a dramatic change in some of the kids who eat at the cafe regularly with their parents. Children who were hesitant and shy at first have blossomed into friendly, self-confident individuals.

This whole experience has inspired me to launch a design and social media company based on the Pay What You Can model. It’s been organic as I’ve picked up little jobs here and there: marketing for a local rock band, social media management for a local farm, and a couple of print projects. My brain is working well enough that I can now build a new business.

Three years ago, I was broken. Just a bum on the street. Today, I’m creating a new venture that will provide a service to those who would not otherwise have access to it, based on a sustainable fair exchange.

I wouldn’t have even thought of this new business without the lifesaving help of FoCo Cafe. Social services helped me survive; FoCo Cafe helped me thrive.

The cafe is asking for our help right now. They have given more value to the community than can be measured. Let’s step up and make sure OUR cafe will continue to thrive.