From the Grand Rapids Magazine May 2018 issue. Available on newsstands now or via subscription.
Almond ’Bout That Bass, Join the Movemint, Tara-Misu — these are just a few of the colorful names Tara VanWagoner gives to her homemade ice cream flavors. But the dairy treats VanWagoner makes at Cone Appétit are so much more than sweet and creamy desserts; before she decided to dive into the ice cream business, she already had another mission in mind.
“About three years ago, I had this vision of having an ice cream shop where there were families gathered and kids running around,” said VanWagoner, who lives in Grand Rapids. “But around that same time, I was still trying to figure out how I wanted to work with someone to end human trafficking and support that cause.”
At age 19, VanWagoner discovered her passion for serving people enmeshed in the human trafficking trade during a mission trip to Paris, where in addition to helping local public schools, her team supported women in the city’s red-light district. “We would often take them little goodie bags of supplies for hygiene, like shampoo and deodorant, lotion,” she said. “It was such an awesome experience but, at the same time, just really hard to walk away from them feeling like I wish I could do more. They’re still not free.”
When VanWagoner decided she would partner with an organization, Exodus Cry immediately came to mind. The nonprofit, based just outside of Kansas City, Missouri, fights sexual exploitation and works to heal those who have been impacted. VanWagoner’s experience with Exodus Cry began when she saw “Nefarious: Merchant of Souls,” a documentary the organization produced about sex slavery.
“I reached out to them and just felt a connection with them,” VanWagoner said. “We just have this connection and this passion that we share and have different ways that we’re going about it, but we’re still a part of the same team and trying to end modern-day slavery.”
The mouth-watering flavors of Cone Appétit can be found at Martha’s Vineyard, Le Bon Macaron andGrand Central Market, and 10 percent of each purchase is donated to Exodus Cry.
“There’s a lot of passion in it and love, and I know it’s kind of a cliché thing to say that something’s ‘made with love,’” she said, “but there is a different kind of love I guess that’s going into it with the passion for the cause and the love for the people that it’s helping.”
*Photos by Johnny Quirin