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Fundraiser for Kenyan Kids

by: Jill Richardson

Fri Nov 09, 2012 at 23:39:18 PM PST

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Tonight, I coordinated a fundraiser for a school in Kenya I visited and wrote about on this blog. I did not go to Kenya to do charity work, nor can I afford to give money. That is, I can't give in any amount that would make the difference the people there need. I feel the best way I can help is to tell their stories as a journalist, and that is worth far more than the small amount of money I can give or can raise on my own. And if you are acting as a journalist, it's unethical to donate or fundraise for the people you are writing about.

That said, the kids at Peter Kariuki Primary School were in such need of help that I felt it would be unethical NOT to do something for them - even if that means I can't write about them as an unbiased journalist. And you know what? I AM biased. I'm very biased against human suffering, and I'm terribly biased against HIV/AIDS and hunger and malnutrition.

So tonight, together with a fantastic group of 5th grade Girl Scouts, their leader, some of their parents, and a few generous and dedicated friends, we held a fundraiser for the school. Our goal was raising $3000. Right now, we have $431 and we'll get a few more donations in the next few days but I think we'll probably top out around $500. It's a start. (If you're so inclined, make checks out to Ecology Action and email me for where to mail them at OrangeClouds115 at gmail dot com.)

Details about our fundraiser are below. Everything that could have gone wrong did, but it turned out OK in the end. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my camera.

Jill Richardson :: Fundraiser for Kenyan Kids
Raising money like this is something I've never done before. I've certainly never done it alone. And, in retrospect, it shouldn't ever be done alone. I delegated a few tasks - we had chefs who were very self-sufficient and really came through brilliantly - but we also needed a publicity committee with a chairperson and such. Instead we had me, and a few kind folks who offered to help invite their friends on Facebook or email their friends, etc.

The plan was simple: We would rent a social hall and commercial kitchen from a local church in La Mesa, which is where the Girl Scouts live and go to school, and we would make a dinner of Kenyan food. We'd ask diners to pay about what they'd pay for good food at a restaurant, and all of the money after we covered our costs would go to buy rainwater harvesting equipment for Peter Kariuki school. The Girl Scouts, including several girls who earned their Bronze Awards learning about Kenya, wanted to be our waitresses.

The menu was as follows:

  • Pilao: Chicken and rice with spices
  • Sukumawiki: Sauteed kale
  • Ugali: Stiff corn pudding
  • Terere: Amaranth
  • Beans
  • Irio: Mashed potatoes blended with greens, with kernels of sweet corn mixed in
  • Mukimo: Pumpkin pureed with beans with hunks of potatoes mixed in
  • Kenyan tea, served with milk and sugar
  • Salad
  • Tropical fruit

Lesson learned #1 - we went overboard. We didn't need so many dishes AND we didn't need so much food. Whoops. I ended up "buying back" some of the excess groceries we bought and so did our chef.

The event was kind of a disaster from the start. The church didn't have their social hall free on a Friday until October, and the first Friday was a major local event so there would be no parking. The next 2 weeks were the kids' school break. We planned it for October 26, the week after the kids would return to school. I hoped to pass out flyers to the kids classes so their friends could come and support them.

Then we had disaster #1. The school planned its Fall Festival on the same date we had the church. The church looked at their calendar and offered us November 9 instead. We agreed.

After that, disaster #2 struck. The church had a gas leak that meant we couldn't use the stove, oven, or hot water. We didn't want to change the date AGAIN so we asked if we could do our cooking using crockpots and camp stoves. They said yes. I put out word to several friends that I needed to borrow crockpots.

And then... disaster #3. The school refused to let us hand out flyers for anything related to fundraising at all. So there went our main method of advertising this event to people who live locally who would come, pay, and eat. That left us with Facebook, email, and word of mouth. It also left us in the position of trying to beg people from San Diego to shlep out east to La Mesa (about 20 minutes away) on a Friday night to attend our event.

And, there's Lesson Learned #2: We charged too much. We asked for $25 for adults, $8 for kids. We heard from people - indirectly - that that was too much money. They said $15 would have been better. Of course, nobody told us this directly, probably because they would have felt cheap. But at the last minute, I started telling people to come and pay whatever - we wouldn't turn anyone away. We put out a basket and people paid on the honor system. I don't know who paid what, except for the people who wrote checks.

Lesson Learned #3 came from our Silent Auction, which was a big success. But we did not set a minimum bid, and a few Girl Scouts left tonight with bracelets they paid $1 for. Handmade bracelets from Kenya that I bought for $2-$5 each. Oops. But that happened for only about 2 or 3 things. Most items went for fair prices, and we pulled in quite a bit of cash from the Silent Auction. We had some really nice items and I was glad people appreciated them.

In the end, we had three people cooking using 2 camp stoves, five crockpots, and an electric kettle. We made enough food to feed an army, but only about 30 people showed up. The Girl Scouts really did turn out, in large part thanks to the leader, who drove several of them, but very few of their parents joined us.

The girls ran around and made a lot of noise, apparently enjoying themselves quite a lot. They were excellent waitresses, though. No dropped trays of food or anything. At one point I tried teaching them a game that involves no talking - and that worked well until I had to leave them to greet a few more people who arrived - and then they were back to running around again.

The best part of the night was the interest our guests showed in the people we are helping in Kenya, what their lives are like, and why things are the way they are. Although I'd rather we had a big crowd, it was nice that I could really spend time with each group who came, answering their questions about the school we are helping and why they are in such great need. We had some great conversations about the lasting impacts of colonialism and the impact AIDS has on communities in Kenya.

With the exception of a few Girl Scouts who refused to eat anything green, most people LOVED the food. It was wonderful exposing so many people to Kenyan food for the first time.

It was also interesting seeing our chef's interpretation of the dishes I enjoyed so much in Kenya. The irio, a mashed potato dish with greens pureed in, was a bright kelly green instead of the very light green it is in Kenya. Another dish, a bean and pumpkin mixture that looked and tasted mostly of beans when I ate it in Kenya, was instead mostly all pumpkin. In Kenya, it was a very thick consistency, but our version was almost a soup. Well, that's what happens when you give a list of ingredients to a chef and leave him to his own devices to make a dish he's never seen - or even seen a recipe for. Of course, everything tasted great, so I have no complaints at all that the dishes were not identical to their Kenyan versions.

Since we did not get our $3000, this fundraiser was just a first step toward that goal. We'll have to go back to the drawing board to figure out what to do next. But first, I am going to sleep for a very long time, and then I am going to write thank you notes!

Thanks a million to:

  • La Mesa First United Methodist Church
  • Chefs Patrick, Jenny, and Dana
  • Troop leader Carly
  • Suzie's Farm
  • Sage Mountain Farm
  • Womach Ranch
  • Dutch Farmers
  • People's Food Co-op
  • Tropical Heritage
  • Divine Madman Coffee
  • Our Girl Scouts and the fantastic families who raised them to be so wonderful
  • and everyone else who came tonight!
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You live, you fundraise, you learn... (4.00 / 1)
Or something like that.  ;)

Keep us up on your progress!

will do (4.00 / 1)
Definitely a learning experience. Now my fridge is full to the brim of fake Kenyan food and I better start eating it.

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

[ Parent ]
You can also call it... (4.00 / 1)
...Kenyan-inspired fundraising fare.  Or Kenyan-fashion rations.

[ Parent ]
kenya inspired indeed (4.00 / 1)
only three of the dishes turned out really bogus compared to the real thing. They all tasted great, but they were nothing like actual Kenyan food. Kind of funny!

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

[ Parent ]
Well, in all fairness (4.00 / 2)
it's kind of hard for a chef to make authentic ethnic food if he/she's never had it.

Normal people scare me.... But not as much as I scare them.

[ Parent ]
oh of course (4.00 / 1)
It was just funny.

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

[ Parent ]
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