Based in Rome, Italy, Hummustown is working to support vulnerable communities through culinary-based economic opportunities. The catering nonprofit helps individuals affected by forced displacement, domestic violence, and other forms of trauma to earn a living and gain culinary training while preparing dishes rooted in their culture.
Shaza Saker, who is Syrian and grew up in Italy, launched Hummustown as a catering company in 2017 to support Syrian refugees arriving in Rome. During Hummustown’s first three years, more than 3,000 Syrians immigrated to Italy, according to Eurostat data. The organization allows vulnerable individuals to secure employment as chefs, preparing Syrian and Italian dishes with Hummustown, as they settle into a new country.
“It’s beautiful to see how these refugees have so much passion for the culinary culture they bring with them,” Saker tells Food Tank. “They’re just normal people who loved food back home, and who are now enjoying sharing their culinary experience, culinary culture, with the Italian market.”
Although Hummustown got its start thanks to a fundraising campaign, Saker was adamant that the organization would not rely on donations alone. “Refugees do not want charity. They want parity,” Saker tells Food Tank. She continues, “The business has to be self-sustainable. It has to because otherwise, what is the guarantee these people will have a job tomorrow?”
To further support the agency of the organization’s chefs and other workers, Saker structured Hummustown as a cooperative. “Hummustown is everybody’s,” Saker tells Food Tank. “They are all part of it, so when we win, we all win. When we lose, we all lose. It gives [members] the sense of having something and working hard to make it succeed.”
All profits generated through the meals that the chefs prepare are re-invested into Hummustown. And as individuals find the support they need through the organization and move on to new opportunities, new chefs step in to replace them.
Over the years, Hummustown has also expanded its mission to help communities beyond Syrian refugees. The organizations now looks to provide support to peoples displaced from any country, those impacted by domestic violence, and economically marginalized Italians who were significantly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“[Hummustown] was created because it wanted to be a steppingstone for everyone who came to Rome, who wanted or needed support, who needed that…shoulder to lean on so they can take off,” Saker tells Food Tank. “And so many took off.”
Listen to the full conversation with Shaza Saker on “Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg” to hear more about the growth of Hummustown, addressing stigma against refugee communities through food, and why Saker believes we must “dirty our hands” and “put our heart, soul, and body” into the causes we believe in.
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Photo courtesy of Hummustown