When I was in college I spent a few weekends at local nonprofit Kitchen Angels as part of the College of Santa Fe’s volunteering outreach. Volunteering is not something that 19-year-olds usually want to do, and I was not an exception to this rule. I distinctly remember standing over a very large pot of borscht. The purple liquid was intimidating. I had never had it. I hated beets. The color was untrustworthy. (I’ve since come around on both volunteering and purple foods.)
One of the best things about writing this column has been reconnecting to why I fell in love with Santa Fe in the first place. I'm not an outdoorsy type, so the natural beauty is a visual bonus to what I really care about: community.
There is a sense that Santa Fe will take care of you. That no matter what, it's here for those who embrace it and all of its endless weird and wonderful. And while I was not necessarily "into" volunteering back in 1999, I took away a sense of awe in the culture of making do and filling the gaps our money-poor but DIY-rich state has.
It’s not edgy to talk about Kitchen Angels. The 25-year-old organization spends its resources preparing and delivering meals for homebound Santa Feans who don’t qualify for other meal services in the area. They serve people of all ages and types who are going through momentary trouble or long-term issues. And every day, they save lives with four paid staff members and more than 600 volunteers.
On Thursday April 27, Kitchen Angels' largest fundraising event of the year takes place at restaurants across town. Angels Night Out is a day-long chance for Santa Fe to do two things it loves to do: eat and help others. This year marks the 19th iteration, and there are a record 35 restaurants participating (including eight newcomers). At those participating restaurants, 25 percent of your bill goes to Kitchen Angels. Restaurants participating include but are hardly limited to Jambo Café, Dr. Field Goods Kitchen, Counter Culture Café, The Teahouse and Fire & Hops.
I spoke with Kitchen Angels Community Liaison Lauren LaVail to get the details of the yearly tradition. Tony McCarty, director of the organization, started Angels Night Out in 1998. Originally based on the "Food Fight" fundraising model, where restaurants compete to raise the most for charity, McCarty's version dropped the competition aspect in favor of simplicity. The restaurants don't have to do much beyond open their doors to participate.
The food industry is well-known for being very giving to the communities they cook for, and Santa Fe probably gives more than most. Rich Freedman, owner at The Teahouse, echoed this sentiment by saying that that Kitchen Angels’ “work in the community is important” and it is a “pleasure to support them.”
LaVail says 10 percent of the entire budget for Kitchen Angels comes from this one day of fundraising. I was surprised that so much of their revenue comes from people literally just paying a restaurant bill, which makes this one event deeply important to the 170 people served daily.
"No one should go hungry, especially in this country, where everything is done in excess and there is so much waste," Fire & Hops chef/owner Joel Coleman says, adding that he appreciates what Kitchen Angels stands for as one of the reasons that Fire & Hops will participate this year for the first time.
Kitchen Angels adds a lot to Santa Fe; it embodies what I love about this place. On April 27, you can and should eat all three of your meals at one of the participating restaurants. A full list of participants is available on the Kitchen Angels website (kitchenangels.org). You may want to call ahead, though, as it can be one of the busiest evenings of the year, and seats fill quickly.