As a student at Lewis, Theresa Marten ’15 was a very familiar face on campus. She led retreats, worked as a Peer Minister in the dorms, served as captain of the dance team, and took part in many other organizations and activities. After all the love and support Marten had received as a student at Lewis, she realized how important it was to give back and knew that her next steps involved serving others. And now, she continues to live out the Lewis mission in her work every single day.
Marten works as Program Manager for SAME Café – a donation-based, fair exchange restaurant that serves healthy food to everyone, regardless of ability to pay. At SAME, you can volunteer your time to help out in the kitchen, bring in fresh produce, or contribute a fair monetary donation in exchange for a tasty meal. This is based on a dignified dining model developed by Brad and Libby Birky, founders of SAME Café. Every single guest who enters SAME is treated equally and has access to an ever-changing menu of local, healthy, and organic food.
There are no set menus or set prices, but Marten says the philosophy is their one constant.
“SAME Café is the first non-profit restaurant in Denver!” says Marten. “Our mission is to create community through healthy food access. We believe in healthy food, community, and dignity for everyone.”
Marten joined the café staff after spending several years volunteering her time and talents at various non-profits.
Just one day after walking across the stage at graduation, Theresa moved into the Nativity House in Lockport, Illinois – a hou
se of hospitality complete with an on-site farm that supports first-time mothers through the principles of the Catholic Social Teachings.
Soon after, Marten moved to Denver to volunteer with the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers for one year where she worked as Case Manager at Urban Peak Youth Shelter. She lived in a community with nine young adults and helped them find work, provided the mental health services they needed and assisted them in reaching their education goals.
Marten found the SAME café right after completing her volunteer year at Urban Peak.
At SAME, Marten says she encounters a diverse and unique group of people daily who help her relate to her community in a more important way. One of those special people is SAME Cafe Head Chef and Operations Officer, Letisha Steele.
“As I began working at the café, I started to understand the beauty in regular customers and the joy new guests experienced as they were able to participate in the way that made sense for them,” says Marten. “I am motivated by the leadership of Letisha Steele. Her ability to invite our team and volunteers to appreciate, take care of, and reduce waste of all the food that comes through our doors is inspiring.”
Marten says with the help of donors, guests, and leaders like Letisha, SAME Café was able to recently purchase a food truck to continue to bring healthy meals to the greater Denver area. SAME has also received funding for its Cook-To-Work Program, a free program for underserved citizens in Denver looking to develop their culinary skills and then find a job in the industry.
Just as SAME Café remains firm in their mission, so does Theresa.
"I have been lucky to have built such a wonderful community through Urban Peak, Colorado Vincentian Volunteers, and SAME Café. Through all of these experiences, I have been given a lot, taught a lot, and seen a lot. I just feel grateful. Life can be really difficult and I hope our work helps make it possible for people to feel needed and human."