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The Freedom Cafe

     Since February of 2013 the Freedom Café has been providing the Oyster River community with quality service, entertainment, food, and beverages, as well as educating us on the issue of human trafficking. Now, they’re closing their doors; and re-opening them a few blocks away. The Freedom Café is getting an upgrade!

     Currently located at 10 Mill Rd in Durham New Hampshire, in a building known as “The Lighthouse”, the Freedom Café is a nonprofit organization that serves speciality coffee and tea to support the abolishment of human trafficking. Through open mic nights and fundraisers, the Freedom Café simultaneously raises awareness and money to help end human trafficking while acting as a safe space for community members. While plans to move locations to better support the Café were in the works, landlord Marian Noronha, who provided free rent for the Café, sped up their timeline. Some speculate that the reason for the move may have to do with the Freedom Café’s public support of the LGBTQ+ community but that information could not be confirmed. Whatever the case, by June first, the Freedom Café plans to be moved into their new space at 37 Main Street in Durham, New Hampshire.

     Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Freedom Café, Bryan Bessette, spoke to the situation, stating, “our official position is that the landlord has decided to utilize this space in a different way. Mr. Noronha has been generous with us for eight years. I can’t speak negatively of him in that sense. The Freedom Café really could not get off the ground without his support.”

     When asked about the reason for the abrupt move, Noronha responded, “I found out one to two years ago that the Café had been making plans to move fairly imminently. We had better plans for the space.” The exact use of the space is unknown but it’s connected to the International Café: a Christian ministry to international students. Noronha said that “this effort is more aligned with the residents of The Lighthouse”.

     As Noronha mentioned the Freedom Café’s original relocation plan was in partnership with the Foundation for Civic Leadership, which is seeking to develop a property at 74 Main Street. While the Café was forced to relocate sooner than they had anticipated, they look forward to collaborating with the FCL in the future. “We had been preparing [to move], and our big fundraiser back in 2020 was supposed to help us make that move. Unfortunately, because of COVID, the fundraising event was canceled and so we were not in quite the position we had hoped to be,” said Bessette. “The timeline for that could be 18 months from now or two or three years.”

     With such short notice, the Freedom Café would not have been able to move if it weren’t for the closing of their second location. “What is allowing us to make the move now is Freedom Café at UMass Amherst, which started at the same time as the Freedom Café in Durham, had to close their doors during COVID,” said Bessette. “They donated, not only their full range of commercial equipment, but also $8,000 to help support our move. We could not have possibly considered making this move without their generosity.”

     While moving so suddenly has been stressful, there’s an obvious excitement about the new location. “Here we have a lot of stipulations about when we can be open, how early, how late, what we can serve,” said Bessette. “Moving into this new space we’ll have a full commercial kitchen so that we’ll be able to serve food. We’re looking forward to doing things like jazz brunches on Sundays and collaborating with WUNH and with the UNH music department, hosting art gallery events because we have 14 foot ceilings with gorgeous windows and lighting.”

     The Café’s new spot includes outdoor seating, easier access, and more parking options. “We’ll be much more visible,” said Bessette. “Here there are so many Durham community members who we’ve heard, year after year, when they come in they’re like, ‘I always thought it was just for students.’ So I think it will open up people’s ability to come.”

     Besides having to support a higher rent, Bessette says there aren’t many drawbacks to their new location. And even with that Bessette said, “our new landlord Peter Murphy has been generous with us and is doing everything that he can to make it a good fit and make it possible. I’m really grateful for him and am optimistic that we will become an even bigger go to and even double or triple our foot traffic.”

     Anna Blezard (‘21), a volunteer at the Freedom Café since September of 2018, spoke to how hard everyone has been working to make this move possible. “Bryan and our managers have been working super hard to move everything non essential and to prepare the space so we can officially make our move,” said Blezard. “I’m really excited to see the new space and be able to start the training.”

     Despite the moving date being much sooner than they anticipated, it’s safe to say that the Freedom Café is making the best of their situation and is looking forward to continuing to serve their community. Bessette expressed his gratitude for the support they receive from the community. “The Freedom Café could not exist today if it wasn’t for the participation of our Oyster River community, especially our students, but also the generosity during COVID in the past year of Oyster River families who have gone out of their way to come in, to get coffee and tea here, to support us in our fundraiser events,” said Bessette. “We’re just really grateful to be a part of this community and look forward to serving everyone hopefully even more effectively in the coming years.”     If you’d like to find out more about what the Café does, visit their website at https://thefreedomcafe.org. And if you’re interested in checking out the Cafe’s new location, you can view photos on their Instagram feed at @thefreedomcafe.

-Isabella Crocco (’21)

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