Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Sweet Relief Recap: Nashville Nourishes the North

Posted By on Wed, Nov 21, 2012 at 7:45 AM

Amandas salted double chocolate chip Heath bar cookies
  • Amanda's salted double chocolate chip Heath bar cookies
Editor's note: Amanda Virgillito Saad, a publicist at The Andrews Agency, is a native New Jerseyan who watched horrified as TV reports showed Hurricane Sandy devastating her home state. An enthusiastic gourmet and food blogger, Amanda decided to blend her passion for cooking and desire to help storm victims by having a bake sale. (See her delightfully decadent recipe for one of the cookies featured in the bake sale — salted double chocolate chip Heath bar cookies — here.)

Amanda was so moved by the experience that she wanted to share the story with Bites:

I read a story to my children every night before bedtime. A recent hit with the kids contained the nursery rhyme “The House That Jack Built,” which teaches memory through repetition. I daresay the method is effective, as I’ve been reciting something like the following in my mind for days now:

This is the cookie that love baked.
This is the person who purchased the cookie that love baked.
This is the money given by the person who purchased the cookie that love baked.
This is the food that was bought with the money given by the person who purchased the cookie that love baked.
This is the stranger whose belly is full from the food that was bought with the money given by the person who purchased the cookie that love baked.

A humble cookie started a domino effect of human kindness that has had me reeling for days. Following Hurricane Sandy, I watched tearfully as it all rolled in: the devastation to the Northeast (including my hometown of Point Pleasant, N.J.), the texts (“Is your family OK?”), the footage and images of towns and buildings and lives destroyed, the stories from Nashvillians who also had family up there.

When tragedy strikes in a faraway place, texting a $10 donation is certainly needed and helpful, but there are those of us who need to roll up our sleeves and do something. Thankfully I wasn’t alone, and thankfully there’s a place where people like to share what’s on their minds at any given moment of the day.

A friend and food blogger with a generous spirit wanted to do something, too. I remember that she pulled off a rather successful bake sale two years ago following the 2010 Nashville flood. I said, “Want to do another bake sale?” She was in. I was born in and have a sweltering sense of pride for New Jersey, so that’s where I wanted to send help.

So a quick eight days later, on Saturday, Nov. 10, Sweet Relief Two took place. What started as a food blogger bake sale grew into a full-fledged community driven benefit. Nashville hasn’t forgotten what the days following the 2010 flood were like, and Nashville hasn’t forgotten that help from strangers had a great deal to do with how we were able to rebuild. Nashville gave back.

The Well invited us into their coffeehouse to set up and sell baked goods. Countless bakers — food bloggers and otherwise — showed up with the most beautiful bounty of baked goods I have ever seen. Media, friends and strangers alike helped spread the word through print, TV, Web and social media. And then the people — and the money — poured in. The personal connection I have to New Jersey was certainly the catalyst for my wanting to plan this event, and I know the donation will feed a lot of people, but I wasn't prepared for the good it did locally. Food nourishes body and soul, and these humble brownies, cookies and cupcakes fed people in Nashville and will feed people in New Jersey. It's syrupy sweet, and I love that.

Following the bake sale, I had a good idea of total funds raised, and that figure was impressive. Then, like that massive storm, it continued to flow in. Local businesses had much to do with that. I’d be remiss if I didn’t properly thank The Food Company and Parnassus Books for their generosity. Beyond the time and effort given, these local businesses made donations that warm my heart. The number surged.

After it was over, there were some baked goods remaining, and a hearty sampling was sent to The Nashville Food Project. I then sent an email to my neighborhood listserve with a request for other organizations who might benefit from a donation of sweets. Many responded. “We want to donate. Let us buy the remaining food.” So I did, and they did. The number swelled.

I’m so proud to report that The Community Food Bank of New Jersey will receive more than $2,000 from Nashville. That number is vague because at the moment I’m writing this, more checks are rolling in. Nashville’s community did something that's been nothing short of overwhelming for me, a skeptic — this event brought together friends and strangers alike for the sake of human kindness. That group of people donated time, talent and money to help people they'll never see. I was born in New Jersey, but We Are Nashville. Thank you for helping both places; both are home.

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