Maya Wallace wants to throw a dinner party that goes beyond good food and merry mingling. As the external affairs director for Sacramento Steps Forward, a nonprofit that specializes in homeless services, Wallace envisions an evening when 100 folks from the extreme ends of the socioeconomic spectrum break bread together.
The very rich would share locally sourced foods with those who might otherwise not know when their next meal was coming. Conversation and dialogue would flow about the best strategies for serving the local homeless population, which numbers 2,500 in Sacramento County.
But throwing this kind of dinner party, even one with social justice on the menu, takes much more than idealism. Permits will need to be secured, chefs recruited for the cause – and asked to donate their time – and ways found to cover the costs of renting a space, table settings and other items necessary for hosting a large public feast.
“There are different ways to get people in the door, but food brings everyone to the table,” said Wallace. “I like the idea of bringing together multiple perspectives and have it really be an educational forum, but also around sharing food, and fellowship and conviviality. The idea is to mash together these ideas of ‘farm to every fork,’ and abundance and sharing knowledge.”
The dinner idea harkens to a recent soiree in Manhattan, an affair for 500 that gathered the city’s wealthy and homeless at St. Bartholomew’s Church. The menu included roasted turkey and red velvet cake for dessert, with a saxophonist and pianist providing tunes.
Sacramento has hosted a similar affair. A “Farm to Every Fork” dinner was held Sept. 13 at midtown’s Trinity Cathedral. Tickets cost $150, but the price also covered a meal for someone far outside the target demographic for fancy dining. Those diners were either homeless or otherwise having difficulty putting food on their own tables, in some cases depending on government assistance. They sat in tables of eight: Four who paid the $150, and four much less fortunate folks.
Mike Thiemann, chef/co-owner of Mother, and his sous chef, Matt Masera, led the cooking duties. They served two salads, one featuring beets and the other with farro and burrata cheese, with a main course of carnitas on a bed of wild rice. Thiemann said the night not only filled stomachs, but opened eyes and minds after hearing first-hand stories of living in hunger.
“The dinner itself was really powerful,” said Thiemann. “It made me think a lot. I’m surrounded by food every day and felt overprivileged and these people were struggling. There’s a million charity dinners, but you don’t always see the immediate result of spending money on expensive dinners. The charity (that night) was immediate.”
Wallace is still mulling which approach to take and even polled friends about the best way to move forward. Among the ideas: Bring the rich into the world of the homeless, maybe host the dinner at a winter shelter; turn the dinner into a cause for action to form lasting collaborations that extend beyond the night; make sure the homeless aren’t treated as some kind of prop, and try to keep the price of admission down.
Whichever way she goes, Wallace is looking at a fairly quick timetable. She’s aiming for February and has a possible lead on a space that can be donated for the cause. But the work is very much beginning. She’ll need to round up chefs who are down for the cause, and likely also assemble a committee to help manage the logistics. A sponsor to help cover some costs would also be most appreciated.
“People want to get on board with this,” said Wallace. “It’s really about corralling everybody and them finding the time. I don’t have a staff. It’s just an organizational capacity issue. It’s the age-old nonprofit challenge.”
So the mission continues. Wallace is still looking for leads and donors to make the dinner reality, especially as the homeless deal with some unforgiving streets during this wintry time of year.
“I want it to be a consciousness-raising for all the attendees,” said Wallace. “Our mission is to get people into housing and help them get self-sufficient. It’s more than about just feeding folks. For me, this is social justice.”
Call The Bee’s Chris Macias, (916) 321-1253. Follow him on Twitter @chris_macias.