Expansion Amid Contraction

2009 will be remembered as the year of the great depression – both economically and emotionally. I know I have spent my share of the year feeling sorry for myself, my business and my friends. What are we going to do, how are we going to survive, poor us. Yes, yes, there is plenty of reason to feel down and I don’t mean to trivialize it. Sometimes I feel mired in this mud and no matter how hard I try I can’t lift my feet to take a step in the right direction. I’ve pretty much ruled out sleeping the year away. So now what?

After twenty years in the food business, I was ready for change. I wanted to volunteer more, get out of my small sphere and start looking at ways I could have a bigger effect: help kids struggling in school, make people aware of how ethical food choices can have an impact, have the time, energy and money to contribute to causes I believe in. Unfortunately the current business climate seemed to have dashed those dreams. I had to reduce my staff to almost nothing and work harder than ever just to keep the business from going under, much less make a profit. On good days I feel like a hamster in a wheel; I keep going round and round, but not getting anywhere. I’m not even getting a good physical workout, just emotional. Could I survive another year like this?

Well, to quote Nat King Cole (who didn’t write this song, but I hear his voice in my head giving me this advice), “Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.” And so help me, I do have moments where I do just that, and guess what? There is plenty of help needed out there and many ways to do it.

wineeventmI have a shop, I have wine and cheese, darn it, I can have fundraisers! The first one was in February and benefited Side Street productions, a company I personally love that has these big woodworking buses they take to schools and teach kids basic skills in woodworking, being responsible, cleaning up their space, and envisioning something and then creating it. Powerful stuff. You can find out more about them at www.sidestreet.org click on the Alternate Routes woodworking bus. We were able to raise enough money to last them through the month when grant money would be coming in. Plus, and to me more importantly, we were able to allow over hundred people to see what Alternate Routes does and won them many fans. Yay. I was feeling better already.

farmers-kitchen-184x2061May 1st we are hosting another fundraiser. This one is for the Farmer’s Kitchen, adjacent to the Hollywood Farmer’s Market. I find this one fascinating because I envisioned something like this years ago, and here they are putting it all together. The Farmer’s Kitchen is a 1500 sf teaching and retail kitchen and cafe. It will give local farmers another outlet for their produce, prepare low income residents for jobs in the food industry (local chefs will be teaching classes), teach moms and caregivers how to prepare healthy meals with fresh ingredients and cater to the community at large with a cafe and retail store. Nice! For only a twenty dollar donation you can sample at least 6 wines, partake of a California Cheese Buffet, meet vendors from the Hollywood Farmer’s Market, sample chocolates, olive oil and an array of food. We are giving all the proceeds to the Farmer’s Kitchen.

This was all well and good, but what else could we do to help? I am serious about this. One day a woman walked through my shop door and we began to talk. Turns out she was one of my competitors, and a fierce one at that. She was closing down her shop and wanted to know if I wanted to buy any merchandise. We enjoyed the type of conversation you can only have with someone in the same business as you. We spoke several times that week. I came to admire her immensely and we formed a bond. Turns out she was diagnosed with breast cancer. It seems so unfair when a disease like that hits. I lost my mom to cancer many years ago, as well as some friends in the last few years.

Our Think Pink Gift Basket, 10% of the proceeds are donated to breast cancer treatment

Our Think Pink Gift Basket, 10% of the proceeds are donated to breast cancer treatment

Feeling hopeless against an opponent this large, I just felt sad. Then I picked myself up again and began to investigate. Turns out we could design some gifts and give 10 percent of the proceeds to the fight against breast cancer. Yes, it might help my business – I do want to stay in business – but I can create beautiful things, make someone happy who receives them, and help with early detection of breast cancer. We can help fund mammograms for those who can’t afford them. With early detection you can save lives.

Life became a bit more exciting to me. Yes, the day to day can be a struggle. But to quote Maya Angelou, “When you do nothing, you feel overwhelmed and powerless. But when you get involved, you feel the sense of hope and accomplishment that comes from knowing you are working to make things better.”

Exactly! Thanks Maya. With this in mind I volunteered to bring and serve the wine at “I Dream to…” a photojournalism event for StepUP (www.suwn.org), an organization that empowers underserved high school girls. When you hear the stories of these girls and how their lives are changing because of opportunities they now have to go to college and expand their own sphere, I guarantee you too will tear up as I, and everyone else does, every time these girls speak of what they have planned for the future. This event will showcase the photography of the girls in the Stepup program. It begins at 7 pm at the Helms Bakery on Saturday night May 2nd.

There are so many opportunities. I went to an event recently for RootDownLA that take students from Manual Arts high school in south central out to the McGrath Family Farm, gets them picking the vegetables, cooking with them (even having a cooking contest) and encourages them to lobby for better food in their cafeteria. As one participant from the school told us, “Eating better helps you live longer, just because we don’t have a lot of money doesn’t mean we should have a shorter life. We deserve healthy food too.” Amen. Stay tuned for a fundraiser for RootDown, and I plan on getting my husband Wally out to help them get a vegetable garden planted near the school.

Giving back won’t solve all my problems, it may not pay my bills, but it will allow me to play a bigger game and expand in a year of seeming contraction.

Terry August

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