Bird's eye view of Downtown Ann Arbor is shown, specifically the intersection of East Liberty and S. 4th Ave.
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All summer, Ann Arbor Distilling Company has featured locally sourced craft cocktails and diverse cuisines at various pop-ups and food trucks. Last Sunday, Ann Arbor Distilling Company welcomed a new vendor: Second Helpings, a non-profit start-up founded by Huron High School student Aashna Nadarajah.

Nadarajah, who moved to Ann Arbor from Canada last year,  wanted to explore ways to showcase refugee culture and generate income for refugee and immigrant women. Nadarajah was joined by members of a Syrian refugee family on Sunday selling Ghraybeh — Middle Eastern shortbread cookies — and Syrian-style headscarves. 

In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Nadarajah recounted her family history as the driving motivation for this project, which started in January.

“My grandma immigrated to Canada from Sri Lanka in the ’80s,” Nadarajah said. “Even though she had her master’s degree, and she was a teacher, she wasn’t able to get any (stable) job in Canada. She had to work multiple jobs, which she wasn’t really comfortable with. Entering my junior year, I was participating in an incubator program where you had to come up with a business idea, and I thought back to my grandma’s story. Second Helpings provided a really easy way for immigrant and refugee women to generate income, doing something that they’re already very used to.”

In addition to her own hard work, Nadarajah said her start-up was supported by a group of community organizations. Michigan Refugee Assistance Program, a University of Michigan student-led refugee assistance organization, helped her connect with the refugee family who showed up at Sunday’s sales event. Underground Printing, an apparel shop based in Ann Arbor, printed the T-shirt with the Second Helpings logo designed by Nadarajah. She also kicked off a fundraising campaign in June, which helped her surpass her goal.

“I was able to raise over $1,500, which is great, and those funds would all go to purchasing promotional material, as well as ingredients and equipment for our home cooks,” Nadarajah said.

Michael Fox, the sales and distribution director at Ann Arbor Distilling Company, was an early supporter of Nadarajah’s venture. In an interview with The Daily, Fox said he was inspired by the mission of Second Helpings.

“We do a lot of work with nonprofits locally,” Fox said. “I really liked the idea that she was doing something on her own, especially at that age, to take it upon herself to do that.”

Fox offered to provide a space for the Second Helpings table for free. He said the collaboration aligns with the company’s social values and business interests.

“We’re more than happy to give space because it helps somebody who we feel is doing something important, and they may not be able to find it for free somewhere else,” Fox said. “Another part is when people know her food is available at our location, it hopefully will bring people to our location to support her, and while they’re doing that, they’ll stop and have a cocktail.”

Nadarajah said she was satisfied with the sales result, and she planned on announcing future events via Facebook groups. Dan Morse, who visited the bar on Sunday for the first time since winter, said the cookie sale brought him a pleasant surprise and he wished to see more social media presence from Second Helpings.

“The cookies taste really good,” Morse said. “I hope they could use social media to get more attention for this. We are always looking for stuff like this, and if we see it, we would love to venture out and try new things.”

Daily Staff Reporter Chen Lyu can be reached at lyuch@umich.edu.