The Rev. Laura Evans Mahn is a servant to her community, solving an immediate problem and making a lasting impact. She is the Founder and Executive Director of NEST Café (Nourish Everyone Sustainably Together), a nonprofit, pay-what-you-can restaurant in Rock Island, Illinois. NEST Café is the first of its kind in the community and has a mission to provide delicious, sustainably sourced food to all who enter, regardless of the size of their means.
“Rev. Mahn has taken solving food insecurity to the next level. She has created a ripple effect by providing her customers and volunteers a place to nourish their bodies and build relationships, learn skills, and create new opportunities through volunteerism,” said Royal Neighbors Director of Philanthropy Amy Jones.
“Through many life experiences, I’ve witnessed the cycle of people with financial struggles having to eat highly processed food that causes negative health effects,” said Mahn. “I’ve also been troubled by the traditional response to feeding people who are hungry, which creates a barrier between those being served and those serving. I wanted to create a place where everyone eats food that serves their bodies the way food is supposed to and where no one necessarily knows who is in need and who is there for other reasons.”
Mahn received a Royal Neighbors Nation of Neighbors℠ empowerment award and a $10,000 grant for her dedication to empowering women and supporting communities. The award and grant presented to Mahn is one of ten awards presented nationwide.
Royal Neighbors member Connie Avey nominated Mahn for the empowerment award and grant. “Laura and her team understand the difference a delicious, nutrient-dense meal can make when someone can eat it with dignity. Women don’t have to experience the stigma of going to a ‘free meal.’ Children witness their mothers paying for an amazing meal, without knowing they may have paid less than someone else.”
The Nation of Neighbors grant will help NEST Café continue to serve the community by helping with operational expenses and paying their small staff’s modest income.
“Recently, I looked around the room, and we had five individuals delivering fresh produce from their gardens. A college professor was sitting at our community table eating with a couple who is currently living in their car. Someone doing court-ordered community service was serving alongside a retired philanthropist, and our amazing team of employees was laughing hysterically. I thought, this is exactly what I dreamed it would be,” said Mahn.