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Eat for Equity

Themed community dinners engage guests in grass-roots fundraising for nonprofit causes

Emily Torgrimson just happened to say out loud to her college housemates: "If I made a meal, do you think people in our house would throw in a buck or two for [Hurricane] Katrina victims?" The friends suggested that instead, they invite everyone they knew and make it into a fundraising party. When 100 people came, Torgrimson realized she was onto something.

That one dinner led to Eat for Equity, a nonprofit that organizes monthly benefit dinners with a participatory, community-driven approach to giving. This model of making themed meals, tied to a cause, has raised tens of thousands of dollars for local and international nonprofits and has engaged thousands of individuals across the country.

Eat for Equity has established communities in Minneapolis; Boston; Madison, Wis.; the Ozarks; Portland, Ore.; Stamford, Conn.; and Washington, D.C., and they are looking ahead to Seattle and Phoenix.

Torgrimson, an associate producer for a Peabody Award-winning radio show and a Lanesboro, Minn., native who earned a master's degree in public health from the University of Minnesota, serves as the organization's executive director.

Torgrimson described attending an Eat for Equity dinner.

"Imagine that you arrive at a stranger's home, fully invited," she said. "You come on in and see a crowd of mostly people you don't know but a couple of friends you did not know would be there.

"You mingle, you have some home brew, you serve yourself a plate of food, often around the night's theme, as local and organic as possible. It's a party atmosphere," she continued. "Before dessert, there is a talk about Eat for Equity and the organization of the night is introduced with a talk about their work and the impact of giving. There is an announcement of how much has been raised with encouragement to give a little bit more. We recognize all the volunteers that helped make the night possible."

After dessert, she said, there is typically music or something special happening. "The party continues," she said. "We start washing dishes and that's the night. You get to go home with a few new connections and a full belly and a good feeling about where your money went."

There is an open invitation to guests to "come as they are and give what they can."

Torgrimson is intentional about building community as well as raising money. That means, she said, "you don't have to wear a black tie or gala gown, that you can bring your full self. You can give not just your own money, but your time and ideas."

In Minneapolis, guests last year donated about 1,000 volunteer hours as cooks, beer brewers, graphic designers, artists and more, and also by nominating organizations for support.

"Eat for Equity is a way to connect with a cause that may seem really far away, taste the food from that part of the world while raising money and connecting with people around them," Torgrimson said. "It's a way to connect and break down barriers. When you share a meal, you share a part of yourself."

Where do you see women connecting and making change in your world? Send me your story, magnuson@womenspress.com


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