THIS Sunday, chefs around the country will kick off "Taste of the Nation," a week-long event billed as the largest nationwide benefit for hunger relief.
More than 5,000 chefs in 100 cities will donate their time, resources, and talents to host events April 25 through May 2.
Here's how it works: People buy tickets to restaurant events ranging from afternoon teas to extravagant dinners. All ticket proceeds go to hunger-relief groups via Share our Strength (SOS), a Washington-based nonprofit organization devoted to addressing the problem of hunger. American Express is sponsoring national organizing and promotional efforts.
This is the sixth annual "Taste of the Nation," and organizers hope 50,000 people will participate to raise $3.5 million.
"As important as it is for a fundraising event to raise money," says Bill Shore, president of SOS, "its other real value is ... `unlocking the door,' so a number of people can get involved in hunger-relief activities in their communities." People are very aware of hunger, he says, "but it's difficult to know what they personally can do about it."
Seventy percent of the funds collected will be given to hunger-relief organizations in the city where the tickets were sold; 10 percent will go to high-need areas in the state, and 20 percent to international relief and development organizations such as Oxfam, CARE, and Save the Children.
Specifically, local funds will go to short-term efforts - such as food banks, and prepared and perishable food programs - as well as long-term "self sufficiency" programs that involve job training and nutrition education.
An estimated 20 million Americans rely on a food bank or soup kitchen for food each month.
Danny Meyer, owner of Union Street Cafe in New York, has been gearing up for months for the event. "I've never run across any type of philanthropic cause where I could make more of a concrete difference toward actually solving something," Meyer says.
This will be his fourth year participating as one of 35 restaurants in New York. "It's a logical extension of what I do for a living. If you're in the restaurant business, you nurture, feed, and take care of people. Now I get to take care of people who really need it."