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The Grace Cafe sits across from the front lawn of VSU. Students often come to get free food and relax in between classes.

‘It’s not cheap, it’s free’: Grace Cafe provides a comfy refuge for students

The Student Union, the library and the front lawn are just a few of the many places that students like to hang out at around campus, but what stands just across the street from the front lawn is a small yet homey hangout spot that has dedicated its purpose to satisfying college students.

“It’s not cheap, it’s free” is the motto you’ll find everywhere when you go into Grace Café, a nonprofit organization that provides free food and snacks to college students.

Emily Johnson, a junior political science major and daughter of Steph and Dave Johnson, who are the founders of Grace Café, said that her family wanted to create a place where college students can come and have free food and relax in a comfortable environment.

“We just wanted to give college [students] a place to feel loved and receive grace,” Emily Johnson said. “We decided to open up more of a café so people could have a place to come a relax and have a quiet place to do homework.”

Johnson said that her mom named it Grace Café because she believes everyone needs some grace, love and a place of non-judgment.

“We’re all college [students], and we make a lot of mistakes in a lot of different areas,” she said. “I feel like we put a lot of pressure on ourselves, but when you come here, you get a breath of fresh air, and that’s the purpose.”

Grace Café started about three years ago in the Johnsons’ family home, where they hosted Thursday night dinners, and has grown tremendously since. The Johnsons started off serving an average of 20 to 75 students per week. Now, they serve about 125 to 140 students.

Students sit, relax and play games at the Grace Cafe during their downtime. Besides being a refuge for students, the cafe provides free food and drinks those who come.

Although Grace Café is established from the Christ of Episcopal, students don’t have to be religious to go and hang out at Grace Café.

“We have a wide variety of political views of people who come here,” Johnson said. “If churches want to grow college ministry, they need to really focus on loving people for who they are because that’s exactly what God does, and that’s what Steph focuses on.”

Chloe Ellison, a junior and ASL interpreting major, said that she likes coming to Grace specifically because they don’t push religion on her.

“I’m not a religious person, but you can respect a religion without being a part of it,” Ellison said. “I think it’s good for other people to come here, whether they’re religious or not, to be around like-minded people.”

Johnson said that her mom has applied for grants, which have helped provide more than snacks and food to students.

“We recently got a grant from one of the national Episcopalian dioceses, so we’ve been able to expand the variety of snacks we provide,” Johnson said. “Steph also gives out a bunch of free T-shirts and other merchandise.”

Grace Café also relies on donations from the congregation to maintain its homey and cozy interior design.

Cassidi Mapp, a sophomore biology major, has been going to Grace Café for less than a year and enjoys the noise-free, calming environment.

“I like coming because they have free food and games, and it’s a nice place to get away from the campus,” Mapp said.

Iris Hector, a junior health science major, prefers going to Grace Café over the library because of the warm atmosphere.

“[Grace Café is] a calm, cool place to come to study [and] hang out, and you can watch movies,” Hector said.

Grace Café is open every day, from 8 a.m. to 12 a.m. Thursday night dinners are every Thursday at 7:30 p.m.

Story and photos by Lenah Allen, Staff Writer.

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