Tucked away in residential Binghampton, Caritas Village, located on Harvard Avenue, serves as a gathering place for people of all walks of life. Since its opening in 2006, Caritas has had a major influence in the Binghampton community, providing a space to eat, learn, and gather.
“Caritas” is the Latin word for “love,” a concept that the organization truly exemplifies through their space. The two-story building houses a cafe and dining room, an art gallery, and a larger event space on the second floor.
Caritas closed its doors in June 2017 to undergo major renovations, opening back up last August with a new menu and new leadership. Longtime Memphian Mac Edwards took over the nonprofit as Executive Director, offering over forty years of culinary experience. Edwards is a founding board member of the Memphis Farmers’ Market and formerly headed the Memphis favorite McEwens. Under the new leadership of Edwards and Head Chef Spencer McMillin, Caritas is gaining momentum as a favorite lunch destination in Memphis, finding a spot on Thrillist’s “Best Restaurants in Memphis Right Now” list. Boasting a constantly evolving menu of fresh and local ingredients, Edwards has certainly elevated the culinary dimension of Caritas in the last year.
“We use Marmilu Farms, which is up in Humboldt, Tennessee. We get our pork, beef, and chicken from them. It’s all grass fed and all natural. We get catfish from Lake’s Catfish down in Dundee, Mississippi. The blueberries are from a neighborhood garden called McMerton Gardens. We would sell asparagus that we picked that morning,” Edwards describes.
Despite the success of the menu, Edwards is still careful to maintain the mission of Caritas, which is to be a symbol of diversity and love, as well as a haven for all people regardless of status. Caritas Village feeds anyone who is hungry, even if they cannot pay. The cafe utilizes a “pay it forward” philosophy to ensure that everyone who enters is fed.
“We feed anyone who presents themselves and can’t feed themselves. We feed twelve to fifteen people on a given day. We do a choice of a house plate, which is a special. Or some people prefer the grilled cheese sandwich and the soup. The customers who can afford it will leave ten dollars for someone who can’t pay,” said Edwards.
By making the cafe a place for all types of people, Edwards and his team have created a beautifully diverse lunch spot.
“What makes our model different about feeding the underserved is that it’s not an ‘us serving them thing,’ said Edwards. We might have the biggest developers in Memphis or lawyers sitting at a table next to two people who ate for free. We all eat together.”
In addition to its role as a cafe, the dining room doubles as a public gathering area for different groups around Memphis. “We’re a safe place for kids after school. There are prayer groups and bible groups that meet here. A lot of non-profit meetings happen here,” Edwards explains.
“Food is love and fellowship,” preaches Edwards. Caritas is using incredible food as an equalizer in the Memphis community, serving up the freshest ingredients daily. The cafe provides a lunch six days a week for everyone, all items under ten dollars. Caritas also hosts Compassion Clinic on the third Tuesday of each month, offering free medical care for the day to the first twenty people to present themselves.
Caritas is currently in the process of rebranding, changing their title from “Caritas Village” to “Caritas Community Center and Cafe.” Their new mission statement reads:
“Why: Caritas Village exists because we can’t imagine the Binghampton pluralistic community without a place that facilitates and models sustainable and positive relationships between all.“
“Identity: Through the unique opportunity lens of Binghampton, Caritas Village is a welcoming community center that serves the age-appropriate needs of area residents.”
“Vision: Caritas Village will be known as a strategic, viable and sustainable inner-city community center that serves as model for the mid-south and beyond.”