Hunger Painstaking

Taste Of The Nation Brings Relief To Local Families.

By Rebecca Cook

IT CERTAINLY ISN'T news that in this land of the BMW and $100 Nikes, many people go hungry.

Last year over 21 million people, including eight million children, sought relief through emergency food assistance programs. Many of these folks were working (at minimum wage jobs), or already receiving food stamps, which somehow never seemed to stretch far enough.

Chow Tucson's Community Food Bank works diligently to fill the needs of local families, but a rising demand for services coupled with a dwindling shelf stock are worrisome, especially now that our more charitable holiday seasons are behind us.

This year, however, the Food Bank will receive a substantial shot in the arm from community members who deal with hunger from the other end of the socioeconomic spectrum.

On May 3, several local restaurants and resorts will join forces to present the first-annual "Taste of the Nation" fundraiser, an evening of fabulous food, wine and soulful music.

The event--the largest nationwide culinary benefit supporting anti-hunger efforts--is a featured program of Share Our Strength, an organization that aids communities in finding ways to alleviate hunger on a local level.

Last year, more than 100 "Taste of the Nation" events were staged nationwide, raising a total of $4.8 million. Every dollar generated by ticket sales for these events is distributed to local anti-hunger groups. All of the proceeds of this year's event will be donated to the Community Food Bank.

Organizers of the Tucson event have projected a haul of $25,000 for their debut affair, according to Taste of the Nation spokesperson Sara Harper.

"We're keeping our goal modest since it's our very first year," she says, adding that she's confident there won't be a lot of empty seats. "After all," she says, "there will be great food, good music, lots of wine--what's not to like? It'll be a wonderful evening."

The $45 ticket buys entrance into the Kiva Ballroom at the swanky Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, where you'll feast on food from some of your favorite restaurants and sip on wine from an etched glass (yours to take home). More than 20 restaurants will arrange their culinary stations in accordance with one of four themes--Southwestern, Resort, European or American--and diners can meander at will through any or all of them.

A glance through the names of the participating restaurants reads like a Who's Who of local gastronomy: Café Terra Cotta, Janos, Vivace, The Dish, Fuego, Kingfisher, Penelope's, Le Bistro, the Cottonwood Café, El Charro, The Grill at Hacienda Del Sol, Daniel's, Ovens, Pastiche, Terra Nova and the Presidio Grill. In addition, Loews Ventana Canyon, Westward Look, Westin La Paloma and Omni Tucson National Resort & Spa will provide some of the wizards from their kitchens. Being a philanthropist has never been so enticing.

If food isn't your main thing, you can fill your etched glass with several fine wines, which in turn may inspire you to hit the dance floor. (Or in this case, one of Ventana's tennis courts.) Three musical groups, embracing a dizzying panorama of style, are scheduled to spice up the evening: the acoustical music talents of Bwiya Toli, the Sinatra-like serenading of Paul Elia and the swinging country melodies of Bill Ganz. Surely everyone will find something to sway to here.

A silent auction and the promise of some deluxe raffle prizes (including travel packages and vintage bottles of wine) add even more opulence to the evening.

Money generated by Taste of the Nation couldn't come at a better time as far as the Community Food Bank is concerned. Generous contributions donated during the winter holiday season traditionally begin to wane this time a year--a season of particularly great need due to children being out of school and home for all meals. For many low-income families, this creates a financial burden they wouldn't be able to overcome without the assistance of a few emergency food boxes.

One Arizona food bank association, along with the Community Food Bank, recently commissioned a state and local study from an independent research firm to help identify the people who were using their services. The research produced a profile very different from the one many expected. Among the findings:

  • Twenty-eight percent of food bank clients in Tucson were employed.

  • Thirty-two percent of Tucson clients were receiving food stamps, but most indicated the aid wasn't enough to get them through an entire month.

  • Forty-one percent of food bank recipients in Tucson told researchers they had to choose between food and medical care within the past year; most had no health insurance.
No doubt about it, Tucson is straining to meet local hunger needs. Forty-five bucks can make a tremendous difference in this struggle, and you're guaranteed a good time in the bargain. TW

Taste of the Nation gathers from 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday, May 3, at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, 7000 N. Resort Drive. Tickets are $45 per person (which includes dinner, wine and an etched wine glass), and can be purchased at any of the participating restaurants and the Tucson Community Food Bank (3003 S. Country Club Road) 1-800-955-8278.

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