Last night, I had the pleasure of being an organizer for a Soup Dinner that benefited International Neighbors of Charlottesville. International Neighbors offers a network of support services to help immigrants acclimate to life here in the US. I got involved via my friend Dahlia, who said she would speak if I would bring cake. Or something like that…
The basic idea behind the event was that those of us helping to organize would recruit friends to make soup and dessert. I took on the task of asking local bakeries – Albemarle Baking Company, Mariebette and Breadworks – to donate bread to round out the meal. Guests would pay at the door and then enjoy a homecooked meal, thanks to their neighbors. There was no minimum donation, but we encouraged people to pay what they would if they went out to eat. This was the second year to hold this event – a rather lofty goal of doubling last year’s proceeds was set – $5,000. A donor stepped forward to say if we met that goal, they’d add another $1,500. The African American Heritage Center at The Jefferson School hosted the event while providing us with a cash bar featuring African American owned beer and wines.
Dahlia agreed to be one of the speakers, along with International Neighbors executive director Kari Miller, who proceeded to introduce refugee members of our community who shared their experiences of leaving their home countries and settling here. These stories, of leaving their homes in Syria, Afghanistan and Sudan, were both inspiring and heartrendering. They were no longer safe in their homes and had to come to place where absolutely everything – the language, the culture, everything – was completely different. And they didn’t always feel welcome upon arrival here, despite the fact that some of these refugees had worked with Americans in their home countries. Listening to those stories made one wonder what was wrong with humans, but then, looking around the room, it was easy to see that there is good to override the bad.
In the end, we more than shattered our fundraising goal, for a total of $14,749. While I’m thrilled to have been part of organizing this event, it was the brainchild of Michelle Damiani, who did most of the work. All I did was recruit a few friends to help out – even the businesses I approached about donating were friend owned, with the exception of one. I ran there from my regular after school cooking class, still in my apron. Turns out, if you walk around an event like that wearing an apron, you can take a lot of credit for good food. And there was some fantastic food – there is talk of collecting all the soup recipes into a book (proceeds to further benefit International Neighbors!) I really only brought cake – my quick and easy chocolate peanut butter cake, which of course fell apart as it was served. (That’s how you know it’s good though, right?)
I neglected to bring my camera, so that collage of crappy iphone photos is all I have. The local press was there though and captured some better images. And we’re still collecting donations, if you’re so inclined.
Many of us involved walked out last night buoyed by the goodness of our fellow humans. As it turns out, soup really is the magic cure-all. No wonder it’s the universal trick of mothers when their children are ailing.