A Midsummer Night's ... Benefit

Whether you're the president of a Shakespeare club (a quick Internet search proves they do, indeed, exist), a caffeine addict or just out to support a local cause, the Midsummer Night's Dream party at the Black Rose Caffe is something worth checking out this Friday night.

The party, which may also be deemed a "benefit," will support the Casa Maria soup kitchen, which has been serving soup and giving out bag lunches to Tucsonans in need for more than 25 years.

"We run the biggest soup kitchen in town. Every day, we serve more than 600 bag lunches, and we do more than 200 family bags," explains Casa Maria coordinator Brian Flagg.

The bag lunches and family bags, he says, consist of whatever food Casa Maria has on hand—be it produce, fruits, bread or even cake.

For the soup kitchen, which is located at 401 E. 26th St., the benefit comes at a key time, as the volume of people coming to Casa Maria is on the rise.

"The last time I counted, we served 670 single people bag lunches, and 225 families. We've never served as many as that. So, yeah, our numbers are at an all-time high," Flagg says.

The increased number of people in need means that summer is an important time to keep on giving—even though it's not holiday-food-drive time.

"Usually, in the summer, it's hard to come up with food," Flagg says.

Without a doubt, the biggest obstacle for Casa Maria has been the economy, which has left many people without incomes, causing them to turn to the soup kitchen for food for themselves and their families.

"It's more people, and I think people are more desperate," Flagg says. "The times are really hard; people have trouble finding work, so they're forced to come here."

While Casa Maria survives on private donations from Tucsonans and local grocery stores, they also stretch donated dollars by paying volunteers like Flagg and his co-workers a mere $10 a week (plus a place to stay at Casa Maria).

For this reason, Flagg says, donations collected for Casa Maria have a more immediate impact on the community.

"It's like money that's not going into overhead. It's not going to pay some executive director who makes a hundred grand a year, like some agency directors make," he says. "Here, me and everybody else make $10 a week, so it's a way to directly—maybe as directly as possible—serve the poorest people in Tucson, keep them fed and able to fight another day."

The Black Rose Caffe, which is organizing and hosting the Shakespearean party, saw the opportunity to help Casa Maria—and excitedly took it.

"We've supported Casa Maria in the past. We had a benefit for them once before," explains Mariha Kakis, owner of the Black Rose Caffe. "We think they're a very worthwhile cause and that they're doing good work, so we thought it would be great to do it again. Especially in these times, people really need the help."

Another way people can support Casa Maria—in addition to attending the benefit and donating food—is by donating time, Flagg says.

"We always need volunteers, every morning between 8:30 and 11:30," he says.

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