A Word from All Square’s Partners-in-Giving Champion, Maria Anderson:

On September 8th, 2018, there will be a new restaurant opening in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis.  The restaurant is All Square, which will be offering a selection of gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches using local ingredients, and who can resist a grilled cheese on almost any day of the year?  But All Square is also an active nonprofit offering an educational 13-month institute available to formerly incarcerated felons that offers a paid internship and professional development, as well as training in financial literacy and personal wellness.  Participates in the program will work in the restaurant as well as attend classes.  The name All Square conveys both a message and a mission statement – that those who have offended and returned to the larger community are considered to be “all square” and to have made their restitution.  All Square was founded by Emily Hunt Turner, a civil rights attorney, and the board of directors is comprised of lawyers, activists, and people who have formerly been incarcerated.  Together they have developed a business and rehabilitation concept aimed at ending the stigma and discrimination experienced by those who have a criminal record that affects their ability to find housing, jobs and government assistance, and that may subsequently contribute to recidivism.

All Square was selected by Spirit Garage as one of three Partners in Giving for the year 2018 and will receive two financial gifts from the congregation, one mid-year and another at the year’s end.  We also hope to provide support from our congregation and our broader church family through Bethlehem Lutheran as after-church lunch customers and also by stopping by regularly in support of the restaurant and its role in the community.

As a Partner in Giving, Spirit Garage identifies a champion who can be a contact for the recipient and act as a liaison for communication, such as sharing information with members, helping to organize lunch outings, and rallying the cause.  I volunteered to be a champion for All Square because their goal is one that brings home a daily message for all of us.  Who among us has not offended in some way against another person or against a societal, religious or cultural norm?  And who among us has not needed to make restitution and be considered “all square”?  Supporting others who are in the process of remaking their lives helps all of us to build a strong community.

My professional background also made volunteering to be a champion for All Square seem natural as my work as a mental health professional in the prison system in Minnesota brought me in contact with many offenders who turned to criminal activity because they did not have jobs or who worried that they would not be able to work upon release because of their record. Lack of opportunities upon release many times contributed to recidivism.  We don’t all have employment opportunities about which we feel passionate but all of us need housing, food, and a way to obtain necessary goods and services.  Persons who have been incarcerated experience discrimination and stigma and those outcomes affect their ability to provide for themselves and their families.  We can help by welcoming and supporting an organized effort to help train and employ persons who can both benefit from these efforts and go on to become successful and contributing individuals within our community.

Eventually All Square intends to expand their rehabilitation program throughout Minnesota and the country.  We are fortunate to have an opportunity to give to All Square and support those who are remaking their lives in our own community.  Be sure to sign up for a group lunch on September 9thafter church services and taste one or more of the nine signature sandwiches (there are also vegan options), soup, fries and beer and wine. Hope to see you there!

Maria Anderson