Since I began teaching cooking classes about two years ago, I am frequently asked to contribute to a wide variety of local charitable causes. They aren't asking for money, per se, but rather a service to be auctioned off at a charity event (a cooking class, party, or specially prepared meal for the highest bidder). Early on, I enthusiastically agreed, eager to help a worthy cause while getting a little exposure for my new business.
Well, I quickly learned that once the word is out that you are a willing participant, the calls for donations start pouring in. At first I was flattered to be asked, then I became panicked that I was giving away the farm before I'd even built the barn, then I simply became overwhelmed. It was time to take control of my charitable giving!
One afternoon, while attending a lecture by a well-known restaurateur, a thought suddenly occurred to me; why not start my own charity event? By doing so, I could choose the type of event, how and when I held the event, and which charity or charities would benefit from the event. Naturally, it would have to be related to cooking. My mind was racing through dozens of ideas when the lecturer said something that clicked. She was talking about how she had some of her old cookbooks on a shelf in her restaurant for people to browse through---and bang! I had my idea. A cookbook sale! Donated cookbooks, sold to the public, money to a charity. That was easy! Now I had to get to work planning.
I put out the word that I was collecting cookbooks on my website, in my Secret Ingredient e-newsletter, and on a popular local website. I even had a "girls' night out" cocktail party for my friends and asked them all the bring any cookbooks they no longer used. Soon I was getting emails and phone calls from all over town asking to donate cookbooks. Within a week I had over 100 books. Some people donated one book, some gave five, and others gave me huge boxes full. Some of the books were older, some looked "gently used" and others were practically new. With less than a week until the sale, I have well over 300 books, and they continue to pour in.
The variety of books was also astounding. There were books on vegetarian and healthy cooking, baking, and cooking for kids. There were ethnic books ranging from Chinese cookery to Middle-Eastern appetizers and Italian desserts. There were also quite a few on microwave cooking, which surprised me, for a reason I can't explain. I received a large number of big, hard-covered, beautiful cookbooks, worthy of being called "coffee table" books, but also found myself sorting through an equally large number of pamphlet-type cookbooks, either put out by a food company (like Hershey's), or by a small kitchen-appliance company (like Cuisinart).
This year I chose QUOTA International of Fairfield County to be the recipient of the First Annual Secret Ingredient Cookbook Benefit Sale. I wanted to start with a local charity, and one that could really use the money. I hope the sale is a huge success and I am able to present QUOTA with a very nice check. I also need to be realistic in the first year of doing anything, but I'm optimistic and hopeful that the sale will meet or exceed my expectations.
This year's sale is Saturday, September 22, 2007 (go to http://www.thesecretingredientonline.com/ for more details), and although it has been a lot more work than I anticipated, I am very excited to kick off what I hope will be an annual event for many years to come.