Andrea O’Neal is a single mother of two and an accomplished chef who runs her own Sacramento area farm-to-fork catering business Chef AMOR, Always Fresh.
O’Neal, 47, exudes confidence and social ease, but this wasn’t always the case.
A victim of domestic violence, O’Neal found refuge through My Sister’s House, a nonprofit agency in Sacramento that provides opportunities for women escaping a violent past.
In the months that followed, O’Neal was offered employment at My Sister’s Café, a branch of the organization that aims to provide job training to victims of domestic abuse. While receiving services from My Sister’s House, the cafe offered O’Neal an additional safe space to heal and work toward independence.
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The cafe is tucked within a brick-and-mortar building just a short walk from the state Capitol. At lunch hour, it teems with state workers, who flock to the cafe for pho, Chinese chicken salad and banh mi sandwiches.
It opened in 2014, funded by a grant through The Blue Shield Foundation, as a job-training program aimed at addressing the difficulties battered women faced as they moved toward financial independence.
“We saw that a lot of battered women couldn’t get a job simply because they’d never had a job,” said Jenny Vo, the cafe’s general manager. “We provide a place where (My Sister’s House) clients can work, earn money and learn job skills.”
Women also leave the cafe’s work-training program having obtained a food handler card. The goal is for women to go on to find higher-paying jobs through the experience they gain at the cafe, said Nilda Valmores, My Sister’s House executive director.
With limited funding to the program, My Sister’s Café often struggles to pay for basic items, such as aprons and nonslip shoes, for its employees, who can’t afford to purchase them.
My Sister’s Café is asking Book of Dreams readers to help by purchasing 20 new aprons and 40 uniform T-shirts for its employees.
“Our clients are first-class workers, and we want them to have a look that reflects that,” Valmores said.
My Sister’s Café also seeks to promote self-discovery and personal growth as women regain a sense of confidence and self-worth.
“A lot of women come to My Sister’s Café with a huge self-esteem issue,” O’Neal said. “They don’t think they’re capable of anything because, often, they’ve been told that from their partners. Not everyone who comes here necessarily wants to cook, but they do want to evolve and get out of their situation.”
For O’Neal, My Sister’s Café provided a sisterhood.
“Your co-workers become your sisters and your closest friends because they’ve been through what you’ve been through,” she said. “There’s something amazing about that.”
Since graduating from My Sister’s House, O’Neal has opened her catering business and appeared on area news shows to present cooking demonstrations. She is in the process of applying to head chef positions at well-known restaurants throughout the area.
“For me, this is another chance,” she said. “I’ve gotten to show my two daughters that just because you’ve been through craziness doesn’t mean you can’t come out of craziness.”
Valmores said My Sister’s Café still has room for growth.
“We’re still a service organization, so there is a lot we are learning in terms of running a business and work-training program,” she said.
Needed: New aprons and uniform T-shirts for My Sister’s Café workers