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Photos courtesy of Urban Avenues.
A group of recruits during a training on Feb. 28. Urban Avenues started Five Loaves and Fish Camp Films, which focus on entrepreneurism and creativity with 18- to 25-year-olds from Fairfield, Woodlawn, Homewood and Oak Mountain.
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Photos courtesy of Urban Avenues.
Urban Avenues recruits work at a Woodlawn Cycle pop-up in the City Series in 2016.
Growing up in an artistic family, John Lankford said his parents instilled in him a heightened sense of creativity.
“It’s a really important gift. If you offer people your art and sense their creativity matters, that’s one of the strongest things you could do for them,” Lankford said.
In 2013, Lankford and his wife, Laura, co-founded Urban Avenues. The nonprofit was designed to foster ideas, collaborative ventures and art initiatives that include individuals from different economic backgrounds. The focus was to advance beauty, economic strength and education across Birmingham in intentional ways.
The former president of East Birmingham Bronze manufacturing company said he never thought much about the city as it related to downtown and the realities of what happened when he moved over the mountain. That was, until he began to get to know his employees and their stories of the steps they took to keep their families going, take care of their children and support their communities.
The 70-year-old East Birmingham Bronze stopped normal production in 2004. After selling part of the company and closing another part after five years, Lankford went back to working in the health care field, but he said that experience with his employees never left him, and he wanted to do something that would have an impact on people’s lives.
Urban Avenues started Five Loaves and Fish Camp Films, which focus on entrepreneurism and creativity with 18- to 25-year-olds from Fairfield, Woodlawn, Homewood and Oak Mountain.
“We build conversation models that get hard issues out into discussion within small settings and citywide venues,” Lankford said. “We are also connecting groups that are doing good work and don’t know each other in the different corners of the city. Their goal is to work together to reconnect disconnected neighborhoods in Birmingham.”
The Lankfords, who live in Mt Laurel, began hosting educators, entrepreneurs and artists in their home. What began with about 25 people quickly grew to 60, then 100. The group moved their meetings to the Avon Theater downtown, and attendees continued to invite contacts who had similar ideas and had done similar work.
“We would break into different groups and talk about how to inspire a deeper love of learning of students that involves them in ways to make an impact,” Lankford said.
The first venture created out of Urban Avenues was Five Loaves in March 2014. It provides an in-home culinary experience that creates a night of food, music, art and conversation by the Five Loaves team from Fairfield. Accepting 20 students during each rotation, the venture’s purpose was to blend students from Woodlawn and Fairfield in test kitchens and host pop-up dinners. In the process of building their cooking skills, the students learned each other’s stories and how to invent recipes to tell the stories of their community.
“We would ask them their favorite things their mother or grandmother cooked and take those and turn them into recipes for developing entrees, desserts and salads,” Lankford said. “The students would also learn how to plate food, set tables for different occasions and etiquette in public speaking.”
Chefs from around the city spend time with the students, teaching them fundamentals of cooking and helping them before events.
Terez Harris, 21, was a part of the first group of Five Loaves students. A 2013 Fairfield High School graduate, Harris was already in culinary school when he began the program.
“I decided in 10th grade that cooking would be my purpose in life,” Harris said. “All eight of us on the founder’s team grew up and went to school together. It was like a brotherhood.”
After Five Loaves, Harris and his buddy, LC Rice, created Corey Kitchen, a food pop-up in their hometown of Fairfield. They created the idea, the business plan and menu, and eight months later, their idea became a reality.
“We want to show that there is still good in the community and restore the namesake of Fairfield, which was originally named Corey,” Harris said. “We bring people in to serve them good food and spread the love of God.”
The team has put on seven events since June, and served almost 300 people. While the students may decide to continue working in food and hospitality, the goal is teaching them to build something from scratch.
“They have to go through failures and successes, but they get the sense of dignity that this is theirs,” Lankford said.
Harris said Five Loaves helped him to talk to people and describe his food, how to be fast with plating and serving and making sure his guests are comfortable and happy. He is continuing his culinary journey, having worked as a manager at the Ashley Mac’s Cahaba Heights location.
“Long term, I want to have my own restaurant and build my own legacy and be one of the top chefs in Birmingham,” he said.
A new class of recruits is getting ready to join the Five Loaves team. Students from Westminster School, Oak Mountain, Briarwood and home schools recently went through orientation in February.
Westminster junior Pierce Moffett said he is looking forward to trying something different and getting out of his comfort zone.
“I think Five Loaves is a cool idea, and I really wanted to be a part of it. It connects so many different people from so many different backgrounds,” Moffett said. “I live in this social bubble where I interact with pretty much the same people every day, and this gives me a chance to experience something different.”
Moffett said he is most looking forward to the different spring catering gigs.
“It'll be a lot of fun just being in the kitchen with these awesome people and making food with them, not to mention getting to eat some of it when we get done,” he said.