Cooking for Relief:
Putting Your Kitchen to Good Use
by Kate Heyhoe
Cooking is, by its very nature, a personal act of giving, caring, and nurturing. After 9/11, Marge Perry, a friend and New York food writer, packed up her kitchen gear and headed down to Ground Zero. She and her chef-fiancé did what they knew best: They cooked. Not for the well-heeled diners of Manhattan, but for the exhausted, determined rescue squads working the disaster area. Their hand-cooked food was eagerly welcomed and very much needed. Also important in a spiritual sense, these two cooks felt they were doing something of real value, in an unbelievable time of overwhelming hardship and emotion.
Not every disaster, though, allows us to aid and assist so immediately and so directly.
As I write this, the headlines are deluged with both global and domestic disasters, from the tsunami in Asia, to California landslides, floods in Ohio, and the crisis in Sudan. Few headlines report the ongoing rebuilding and humanitarian efforts that still occur in places as disparate as Florida (getting back on its feet from the hurricanes of 2004), and Iran, where the city of Bam was leveled by a 6.3 Richter-scale earthquake, killing more than 40,000 people. Ironically, the quake hit exactly one year (to the hour) prior to the recent tsunami. People in Bam continue living in tents, children survive alone as orphans, and only seventeen percent of the pledged international aid has arrived.
Cooking for Kindness
Doctors, firefighters, and police have the specialized know-how to rescue victims. Cooks may not be rescuers, but they have a knack for nurturing with food and home cooking. However, according to relief agencies, money is often the best donation. It allows goods to be purchased in local areas, bolstering the local economy, and it doesn't require the added expense of shipping that physical goods do.
Yet, frustrated cooks can still use their culinary talents to help out—by earning money to send to the charities of their choice. Cooking for kindness is a respected, time-honored tradition that raises both funds and spirits. Southern church ladies know all about the profitable business of the church social. And millions of moms have paved the road of charitable donations with brownies, cookies, and cupcakes, sold at the school bake-sale.
One byproduct of large-scale, headline-grabbing disasters is the shrinking of donations for other worthwhile causes. Time, too, has a way of diminishing donations. Out of sight, out of mind, as the saying goes.
So I'm hoping that after you make an immediate cash donation to a charity or relief organization, you also plan for a future culinary event to feed the kitty, so to speak. Invest in the raw food as materials, toss in your own time and labor for free, and put them all together for a food product or dining experience that earns equity. Keep in mind that while most donations arrive immediately following a disaster, long term funds are always needed to continue the rebuilding of homes, lives, and infrastructure. It's good to give now, and it's also good to give later.
Just within your own local reach, in your office or neighborhood, you can make or do many things to raise funds and awareness. For instance:
Bake Sales: These are the perennial winner among do-it-yourself fund raisers. Bring out your hometown pride with recipes from your family, regional, or historical heritage.
Orchard and Farm Stand Sales: Sell crates of assorted local farm-raised fruits and veggies, preferably organic ones, and even some fresh local flowers. Who can resist a box or bag bulging with the peak of the season bounty, ranging from asparagus to zucchini, apples to zinnias. Buy full crates of each item from farmers (or ask them to donate the items), then divvy out the contents among several crates, filling each one with a small supply of each product. Buying in bulk saves money, allowing you to add a tidy profit onto each crate.
Meal Solutions: Do you make a mean lasagna? Does your meatloaf disappear as soon as it hits the plate? Do you make real chicken soup or meaty chili from scratch? Does your barbecued brisket win awards? Take orders for your best casseroles or reheatable recipes: Make a busy person or family a home-cooked, prepared meal and charge them a fair price as their donation of money, and your donation of labor and/or materials. This plan works best if you know how to cook in quantity, and can sell several meals at once, especially on a regular basis, perhaps to a club, dormitory, or living center.
Take 'n' Bake Pizzas: A variation on the category above, a ready-to-bake pizza can be irresistible, especially if made with homemade dough (try whole wheat or cornmeal variations) and fancy toppings. Take orders for Friday night pick-up and let the buyers bake the pre-rolled and topped pizzas themselves. Let them know the money is going to a good cause.
International Dinner: Cook up a grand "prix fixe" dinner party with an international theme, and charge for it. If your goal is to aid a particular region or country, such as Indonesia, serve an Indonesian menu and include information about the customs, history, geography, and people.
Wine and Cheese Tasting: Got some wine collectors, or at least wine lovers, in your circle? Organize a wine tasting: Ask a few friends to donate the wine, a few others to donate some cheeses, and ask a few others to join as additional guests. Let each person contribute with a "suggested donation fee" of $10 to $20, or higher if the wines are really top flight. A good wine store will gladly help you pick out a diverse selection of wines (and even cheeses) for tasting.
Sipping Stand: Create an adult "lemonade stand," brewing specialty coffee or tea, in your workplace kitchen or office lobby. Or consider smoothies, milk shakes, and ice cream cones. If you've got a large freezer, you and your neighbors can liberate your ice cream makers from storage, and whip up a dozen or so gourmet varieties to sell by the scoop.
Now, I'd be remiss if I didn't advise you that according to every state, you need a license to sell wine or food, which must be prepared in sanitary, approved kitchens. But check out the laws, and the flexibility for fundraisers, in your area. Remember: It's in everyone's best interests to adhere to strict sanitary practices, less you create your own form of local disaster, such as food poisoning or worse.
As the tsunami disaster fades from the daily headlines, don't think that the need for aid will go away as easily. Experts predict they'll need donations for years to come. Sad to say, there's always another disaster or urgent call for your help just around the corner. Whether it's on foreign shores or at the pet shelter down the street, your donations can always find a good home. So check out the ideas above and the recipes below, and see how much difference one cook in a kitchen can make.
Recipes for Good Causes
Bake Sale Items:
Savory and Sweet Food Gifts to Make:
Casseroles and Portable Foods:
Baked Macaroni and Smoked Gouda Cheese
Eggplant, Sausage and Ziti Casserole (Emeril's)
La Mancha Beef and Potato Stew
Italian Farmhouse Lamb Stew
Ohio Farmhouse Sausage Chili
Copyright © 2005, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created February 2005