East Chattanooga's Together Cafe aims to end human trafficking one cup of coffee at a time

Deven Wallace, lead for the Together Coalition and founder of the Zion Project, talks about what the Together Coalition does during an interview at the Together Cafe Monday, December 18, 2018 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The Together Coalition consists of a few core organizations dedicated to ending human trafficking of women and children.

The newly opened Together Cafe on Orchard Knob Avenue is the latest coffee shop to open among the many already in Chattanooga, but its main mission is not one of profit but rather of charity.

Started by the Together Coalition, a group of faith-based organizations dedicated to ending human trafficking, the new cafe at 801 South Orchard Knob Ave., has a full menu of tea, espresso, coffee, speciality drinks, desserts and small plates and a mission of "ending injustice, one cup at a time."

Every dollar spent at the cafe will go toward helping women and children affected by sexual exploitation and violence except what is needed to pay for the food and drink supplies and to pay the six employees, said Deven Wallace, lead for the Together Coalition and founder of the Zion Project. The coalition consists of a few core organizations dedicated to ending human trafficking of women and children, including the Zion Project, 7th Well, Willowbend Farms, Elm and Making Room Ministries, which is an adoption and foster agency.

"We felt like it was a good way to get income without always having to go out and beg for money," said Wallace, who is also a lead pastor at Redemption to the Nations Church down the street from the coffee shop. "Let's give the community a product they love but then also give them a cause behind it."

Redemption to the Nation actually owns the space and provides it to the Together Coalition for free. All the coffee shop profits go through the church and then get dispersed to the organizations involved with the coalition.

Chattanooga has become a focal point in the state for ending sex trafficking because of its geographic intersection of Interstates 75, 24 and 59, which provides an easy path for pimps to transport their victims around the Southeast, according to state officials.

The Human Trafficking Unit at the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation estimates that one in four children who run away will be propositioned by a sex trafficker within 48 hours of leaving home and every year 1.2 million children worldwide are trafficked for sex. Human trafficking is the second fastest-growing criminal industry behind drug trafficking, and the average age of a child sold for six is 13 years.

Wallace started the Zion Project nearly 10 years ago with the goal of ending human trafficking in other countries, including Bulgaria, Romania and Guatemala. It wasn't until she and her daughter saw a prostitute on the side of the road one day in Chattanooga that they decided to turn their attention back to their hometown.

For the last four years, Wallace and the Zion Project have been working to end sex trafficking in Tennessee, but the pastor and lead for the Together Coalition said they quickly realized the problem is bigger than any one organization and they began to reach out to other faith-based organizations.

"We began to realize that we have resources that each other needs," she said of the coalition's members. "Some of us were redoing things other organizations were doing, and we were just so much more powerful when we came together."

Started over a year ago, the coalition got its name "Together" for two reasons - the members knew they had to come "together" to solve the problem and it is actually three words combined, "To get her."

"To get these women, we have to come together," Wallace explained.

Tess Brandon, CEO of 7th Well, was enjoying a cup of coffee at the cafe on an unseasonably warm December afternoon recently while chatting with 7th Well program director, Becky Burdashaw.

Brandon said the Together Coalition has provided 7th Well with mentorship and resources that have allowed them to grow their organization, which serves juveniles. While all the agencies that are a part of the coalition provide non-residential services, it is a goal of the cafe to raise enough money to open a residential facility for victims.

Brandon thinks the cafe could help bring more awareness to the community of sexual exploitation and human trafficking.

"Awareness is key in the community and having a coffee shop built around that is an incredible thing," Brandon said. "I think it will strengthen relationships, too."

Wallace said they hope the cafe can also provide job skills training for women who have been clients of the coalition's agencies. The space has an extra room that can be rented out for future events and provide an extra source of income, too. Surrounded by schools, Wallace said it has become a meeting place for students and teachers in the area and fills in a "gap" and need for a communal space in the east Chattanooga neighborhood.

While Together Cafe officially opened Dec. 3, the coffee spot will hold a grand opening event Jan. 11, which is also "Human Trafficking Awareness" month. For event updates, visit their Facebook page, facebook.com/TogetherCoffeeCafe.

They currently serve Counter Culture coffee, which is a North Carolina-based roasting company.

"Our goal is to not just be a charity organization, but we want to have the best cup of coffee in Chattanooga," Wallace explained. "So we want people to be happy to buy the coffee but then happy about what it's going for."

Contact staff writer Allison Shirk Collins at ashirk@timesfreepress.com, @AllisonSCollins or 423-757-6651.