Cooks for BLM Serves Up New Recipe for Effective Fundraising

by Elizabeth Turnbull

Following the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the ensuing protests that rose up in Seattle, Jude Watson, a local chef who has worked at Stateside and FareStart, searched their metaphorical pantry to see how they could help organizations fighting for Black lives and equity.

Watson had been laid off and reached out to other chefs who they knew were out of work to see if, together, they could translate their skills into money for King County Equity Now (KCEN), a coalition of 60 Black-led community-based organizations working toward racial equity. 

“It’s called the service industry for a reason, you know, we’re all used to being useful, and we’re used to being incredibly active, and I don’t think any of us are very good at sitting still,” Watson told the Emerald. “So I think this project felt like, in a lot of ways, a really natural outpouring of what we do in restaurants, even though you don’t necessarily, in restaurants, always get a chance to do work specifically for social justice.”

The central idea for the fundraiser was to sell community-supported agriculture (CSA) boxes containing various baked goods, condiments, and sauces made by Seattle chefs laid off due to the pandemic.

The Cooks for Black Lives Matter project, which began in May of 2020, was supposed to last one month. They sold out of the first boxes in less than a week and decided to extend the project, which continues to this day. Roughly 20 to 30 chefs, total, have participated.

Today the fundraiser works with a network of local donors to deliver 60–80 individual boxes, containing ten items, with each box costing $105. Cooks for BLM’s website states 85% of the program’s revenue goes directly to KCEN, and 10% of the money goes back to individuals who have participated in the culinary efforts for the box.

Also according to their website, what started out as a small fundraiser in the spring of last year raised roughly $25,000 in support of Black-led organizing efforts in Seattle by the end of 2020. Because of the fundraiser’s success, Watson is working to share their fundraising structure with other business owners interested in doing something similar.

On Feb. 7, Watson and Max Goldstein, the project’s culinary lead, will hold “Hungry for Justice Summit,” a virtual workshop for food business owners across the Pacific Northwest. They will explain Cooks for BLM’s fundraising model and introduce other models for food-based racial justice fundraising projects.

The workshop will also focus on raising funds for community organizing, as opposed to fundraising for direct service efforts such as providing food or housing, in order to maintain funding for community organizing efforts such as the work done by KCEN or other local groups. 

Ultimately, for Watson and Goldstein, the fundraiser has proven to be something they find much purpose in and are hoping to share with others. Goldstein specifically has seen it as a way to fund Black-led organizations in the fight for abolishing the police. 

“I guess it’s just being able to use something I’m good at to be able to accomplish that goal,” Goldstein said. “You know [cooking] — this is what I can do, and I think there’s just good work to do.”

Elizabeth Turnbull is a journalist with reporting experience in the U.S. and the Middle East. She has a passion for covering human-centric issues and doing so consistently.

Featured image is by Carolyn Bick.

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