Aashna Nadarajah’s grandparents immigrated from Sri Lanka to Canada in the 1980s. Nadarajah’s grandmother had difficulty finding a job in Canada despite her qualifications, which included possessing a master’s degree, speaking fluent English, and having a decade of experience as an educator in Sri Lanka. She ended up needing to work multiple (unfamiliar) jobs to make ends meet for her family.
Fast forward to 2021 when the younger Nadarajah had moved from Toronto to Ann Arbor and was asked to think of an idea for a startup company, while she was in an incubator program for teens. She immediately thought about her grandmother’s story.
“Her story just stuck with me,” Nadarajah said. “I was trying to think of an idea that would help immigrant and refugee women like my grandmother to make money doing something that they’re very familiar with, while also being able to kind of get integrated and connected with the community.”
Second Helpings was born. Nadarajah’s idea was essentially to create a community platform for immigrant and refugee women in the Ann Arbor community to sell their own home cooked ethnic meals at the Ann Arbor farmer’s market and other venues. She began to promote the idea in local facebook groups and received lot’s of positive feedback and support.
“I’ve noticed from my time being here that the people in Ann Arbor are really friendly and they’re very open minded to experiencing different cultures and they’re very eager to do so,” Nadrajah said. “So, I think it makes it a really great place to launch Second Helpings. Also, there are so many people here who are very eager to work with immigrants and refugees in integrating them into the community and uplifting them.”
Nadarajah ramped things up in January of this year. She reached out to multiple organizations in the area including the Michigan Refugee Assistance Program (MRAP) and Washtenaw Refugee Welcome. These organizations helped connect Nadarajah with women who were interested in being a part of the program. Nadarajah’s goal is for the homecooks to not have to pay for ingredients or other expenses, so she created a GoFundMe page and has raised over $1,300. On top of all of this, Nadarajah continued attending Huron High School, where she is a junior.
“Working on this idea throughout junior year was quite difficult,” Nadarajah said. “But, l found motivation to keep doing this from a lot of different sources. Obviously, it started with my grandmother. Originally, I was like ‘I’m gonna do this for people like her,’ but then also through the process of coming up with this idea, I’ve met a lot of refugee and immigrant women who are extremely inspiring, and they’re very eager to become a part of the community and help themselves and their families and they’ve driven me to keep doing it.”
One main obstacle Nadarajah has faced is the Michigan Cottage Food Law. The law restricts the sale of food from those who are not licensed to non-hazardous food. This means that the homecooks cannot sell temperature-regulated foods such as meat and dairy. This is a hurdle for Second Helpings because these foods are a staple part of some of the refugees’ cultures. Although a lot of the women hoped to cook meat and other temperature-regulated food, they have been creative in finding ways to create their cultural food while still adhering to Michigan’s law.
Second Helpings is planning to launch later this month at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market. Nadarajah is currently working with two women from Syria and Morocco, however she hopes to connect with more before the launch. After the launch in late July, Nadarajah hopes to continue expanding by getting more homecooks, doing catering and even getting a commercial kitchen, where the cooks would be able to use meat and dairy products.
“We have all the materials ready for the launch and I’m really excited,” Nadarajah said. “A lot of the women will be there to kind of showcase their food. And really, for me, it’s not about me selling their food. It’s more to facilitate everything and give these women an opportunity to sell their own food and meet the community.”
For more information on Second Helping via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jr. Journalist, Anjali Kakarla, is a rising junior at Skyline High School. She split-enrolls at Community High School where she is a part of the journalism program. She loves interviewing people and learning more about their stories. When not at school, you can find her running track and cross country, on the basketball court, or baking at home with her sister.