By Steve Peters
For the past fourteen years, Three Tomatoes in Rutland has been helping make a significant difference in providing food for people in need. Through an effort that spans the first three Wednesdays of each December, the restaurant generously holds the Rutland Community Cupboard’s largest fundraising event. In 2011, that effort totaled over $45,000 – helping to feed the more than 500 families that visit the Columbian Avenue facility each month.
At this time of year, non-profit organizations such as ours, the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link, are working full force to achieve our fundraising goals. And there are plenty of other efforts in our community also raising money for good cases, such as the WSYB Christmas Fund. However, none are quite like that at Three Tomatoes.
The way it works is that dinner service on the three December evenings is served by a wait staff composed of local celebrities. With the expert assistance of Tomatoes’ usual staff, they serve their friends and family who they have personally invited to attend. At the end of the night, all of their tips go directly to the Cupboard.
When Allen Frey, owner of the Rutland branch of the restaurant, sat down years ago to see what he could do to give back to the community, he didn’t realize how large the event would become. “It just sounded like a good cause,” Frey says.
During the first round this year, our own executive director, Tara Kelly, was one of the guest servers.
“It’s a great night. Having everyone there and having fun, all for the right reason, is just a great idea,” Kelly says. “The combination of having people come to support both the server and the charity really makes this work,” she explains.
At RAFFL, we help support the Cupboard through our Grow a Row program, where we organize fresh food donations from farmers throughout the growing season. But it is just as easy for individuals to contribute to feeding those in need. Whether it is through volunteering one’s time or making a donation of some kind – it all adds up.
“What I love about getting involved with the Cupboard is that they only have one employee. Since the money we raise goes directly to them, rather than a corporation, 99% is going where it should – there’s no fat,” Frey says.
When I attended the event myself last Wednesday, it was clearly another successful evening. The restaurant was packed with folks looking to eat good food and have fun. In the process, they were helping others to eat as well.
My server for the evening, Katye Munger, one of the organizers of Restoring Rutland, raised $1400 in tips for the evening. And she didn’t even spill anything on me, either.
Although the thousands of dollars raised at Three Tomatoes will go a long way to help restock the Cupboard’s shelves, it won’t last long. Keeping the Cupboard well stocked is an ongoing effort. This year alone, there will be a total of 260,000 items distributed to 6,697 families in need.
This Wednesday, December 19, is the third and final evening of the 2012 Three Tomatoes fundraiser. Be sure to make a reservation if you can and contribute to this worthy cause. Consider the many families out there that during the holiday season, and throughout the year, might not be able to eat as well as the rest of us.
To make a donation or volunteer your time, call the Rutland Community Cupboard at 802-747-6119 or visit their facility at 191 Columbian Avenue in Rutland.
Steve Peters is the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link’s Food Education Specialist. Contact him at steve[at]rutlandfarmandfood.org.
Originally published in the Rutland Herald.