Eat for Equity fundraising dinners take off in Madison
By Nora Hertel | Tue, 09/04/2012 - 11:31am
Diners came early and stayed late for the third Madison Eat for Equity dinner. Over 50 people showed up for an Ovens of Brittany themed menu hosted by Mermaid Café and featuring a chilled cucumber yogurt soup and ratatouille crepes.
“We welcome lingering and conversation,” said Stephanie Ricketts, founder and leader of the Madison chapter of Eat for Equity. “It was a much larger crowd than we were expecting – which is great, which is totally great.”
The event on August 29 raised over 700 dollars for a program at Bare Bones Farm that provides free CSA shares to low-income families and individuals. The dinner marks the third event for Eat for Equity in Madison and embodies the goals of the overarching national organization. Ricketts brought the chapter to Madison, because it aligns with many of her values.
Eat for Equity began in Minneapolis, Minnesota by activists hoping to help in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. They threw a dinner party that served as a fundraiser, while also promoting local food and community.
The organization maintains three goals, explained Ricketts. And the goals are equally important to her. First of all they strive to “raise money for organizations in need in the community, that in some way promote equity,” said Ricketts.
Secondly, Eat for Equity works to “educate and celebrate local food,” Ricketts explained, “really highlight local producers and seasonal availability of produce and sustainable agriculture.”
And finally the group works to promote community. Ricketts tries to request a reasonably priced donation for the meal, between 15 and 20 dollars, while encouraging people to meet and talk.
The Eat for Equity values resonated immediately with Ricketts. When she first learned of the group, she had been looking for project to rally behind.
“I’ve been wanting to do some sort of community building around food for probably a year now,” said Ricketts. “When I saw [an] article on Eat for Equity… in the spring of this year, it just clicked. It was exactly what I had been looking for but better”
Ricketts became interested in social justice issues after spending a year working for AmeriCorps NCCC. After that she pursued a degree at UW-Madison in Women’s, LGBT, and African American Studies. Working for the Willy Street Co-op -- where she serves as the executive assistant and board liaison -- opened Ricketts eyes to issues of food access.
“I was trying to find the best way to get involved in social justice,” said Ricketts. “I got a job at the co-op and really found my passion in food and in food access, food production, and personal health issues.”
Once she learned about Eat for Equity in the spring, Ricketts jumped at the chance to start a local chapter. The national group provided framework and support for her, and she took off running.
Ricketts hosted the first dinner in June -- in her own back yard -- and served homemade pasta with her mother’s help. They fed about 20 people and raised 200 dollars for the Bare Bones Farm CSA program for low-income people.
The second dinner took place in July and raised over 600 dollars for the Domestic Abuse Intervention Services' new shelter. Rebecca and Marti Ryan hosted the event with 25 attendees and choose the recipients of the funds.
Ricketts explained that “having the host select the beneficiary allows us to have a more intimate connection, because it’s usually something that they are very passionate about.”
The most recent fundraiser exceeded the expected number of attendees, and for the first time included table service and outside consulting for the menu and graphic design. Lisa Jacobson, the owner of Mermaid Café, attended the June event and hosted the August meal. Ricketts works part time as a barista at the Mermaid Café.
She has used her connections around town to create support for Eat for Equity. Bare Bones donates produce for each of the meals, and the Willy Street Co-op provides 50 dollars of food at the store for Eat for Equity dinners.
Ricketts said she’s “connected to a bunch of people at Bare Bones Farm through various foodie things going on around town.”
Ricketts works in the kitchen for every Eat for Equity event, and she has a rotating pool of about 5 friends who help prepare, cook, and serve the food, including an Underground Food Collective member and The Healthy Evertythingtarian blogger.
This last event brought a number of guests that Ricketts had never met before and raised new questions about capacity at future events. They may host some RSVP-only events or seek more venues like community centers.
“We’re very much just brainstorming how we might want to navigate that as we move forward,” said Ricketts. “It’s such an awesome problem to have.”
Eat for Equity is also playing with the idea of doing a cocktail hour event or connecting with a local musician or art event. They plan to continue at a rate of a meal per month, depending on host availability. As they gain more popularity on Facebook and local list serves, more people express interest in hosting meals.
They will continue through the winter and are already working on plans for September, October, November, and January events.
“We’re starting to preserve food now, so we won’t just have to offer meat and eggs and cheese,” said Ricketts of the winter meals.
While Ricketts devotes several hours a week to Eat for Equity, she feels grateful to have an outlet to support local food, community, and equity. And she gets a lot for herself out of the experience too.
“Living in very divisive times it’s nice to build community and to celebrate one another a little bit,” said Ricketts. “I love it, and it’s been so much fun. It’s been such a positive experience and I feel really lucky to be able to have the time in my life to do it.”
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