For close to 20 years, I’ve been volunteering for anti-hunger organizations. First I was a prep cook for an AIDS organization. Then I made sandwiches at a soup kitchen for homeless men. Now, on Saturday mornings, I deliver meals to homebound elderly men and women for Citymeals-on-Wheels, an organization co-founded by James Beard and Gael Greene.
All this was separate from my professional life as a business journalist. But last year the personal and professional started to connect when I shifted careers and joined the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade as Communications Director. It turns out that the NASFT has a direct and strong connection to anti-hunger efforts.
We are a not-for-profit trade association that helps food artisans, entrepreneurs and specialty food importers grow their businesses and succeed in markets around the world. But we’re also committed to sharing our bounty with people in need. After our Fancy Food Shows in New York and San Francisco, our exhibitors donate crazy amounts of chocolate, cheese and olive oil, not to mention produce, pâté, salami and biscotti, to area food programs.
This year, exhibitors at our 55th Summer Fancy Food Show at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center donated 204,100 pounds of specialty food and beverages to City Harvest at the end of the three-day show. That’s enough to fill five tractor trailers, and the shelves of hundreds of food pantries throughout New York City. Stay tuned for more on this amazing effort!
Another recent donation was to Citymeals-on-Wheels. We reached out to many of the 128 finalists for our 2009 sofi Awards to donate their finalist products to an annual fundraiser at Rockefeller Center in New York. The sofi Awards recognize excellence in specialty foods and beverages and our considered our industry’s Oscars.
The Citymeals event featured some of the most prominent chefs in the United States, who all donated their time and food to help raise money for the organization. Our members donated chocolate, pasta, spice rubs, snazzy snack chips, harissa, unusual rice and more for gift bags for the chefs.
The roster included Daniel Boulud, Alfred Portale, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Restaurateur Drew Nieporent, partner in Myriad Restaurant Group of Nobu, Corton and Tribeca Grill fame, was there, as was John Schenk, executive chef of Strip House. Schenk declared his good bag, brimming with sofi products, “the best gift bag ever.” I had a chance to attend, and it was a fabulous New York night. The food was spectacular, and even the design was beautiful, donated by David Rockwell, the architect and designer.
For me, what made our small gift bag effort so nice was the eagerness of our members to contribute. Of course they wanted to get their food in the hands of these great chefs, but there was a true desire to help a great food cause too. Also, my colleague Betsy Schwartz, our creative director, jumped in and made a beautiful thank-you card to all the chefs for donating their time.
My only regret is that we had to turn away some of the sofi finalists who wanted to donate. The gift bags weren’t big enough, and we had to limit the donations to products the chefs could transport on airplanes. So there are a few great olive oils and vinegars that did not make it into the bags because they were too heavy, and exceeded that pesky 3-oz. limit for liquids in carry-on bags.