Cooking for a Cause in Southern Michigan

The annual Detroit-area food event started in 2015 as a means to raise money foster care, a food pantry and behavioral health services.

Peg Bravo (left) with Lupe Bravo
Peg Bravo (left) with Lupe Bravo (photo: Peg Bravo)

Working together as a dynamic duo, Peg Bravo, president and CEO of Catholic Social Services of Washtenaw County (CSSW), and Jennifer Trevathan, development and marketing specialist of CSSW, have brought in funds for Catholic Social Services in Washtenaw County, Michigan, this past year with a virtual, at-home cooking event. Their project: “Cooking for a Cause.”

The annual event started in 2015 as a means for CSSW to raise funds for programs such as foster care, the food pantry and behavioral health services. As the ladies noted, they engage local chefs in a cooking competition and each chef offers attendees a small plate of what they have cooked.

“We do a balance of seafood, vegan and vegetarian, and beef dishes,” they said. “It is a strolling opportunity for attendees to watch the chefs cook and prepare their dishes. They can walk around holding their small plates and then cast a vote for their favorite dish. Toward the end of the evening, the winning chef gets a trophy.”

The ladies contact the chefs and ask them if they would participate again. “Some three or so do this every year because they love it,” they said. “Otherwise, we are cold-calling chefs, telling them what the program is about. … Some of our chefs are Catholic but they are all faithful to the work we do and to our mission.”

Since the social service agency serves 11 parishes in their area, the event has previously been open to the public. “We serve the whole county,” they said, “and the three counties next door.” It has been hosted at a local farm venue in an outdoor setting. The owners of the farm are Catholic and served on the CSSW board.

Due to the pandemic, the past September event was held remotely, and the 175 participants did the cooking at home. “They gathered together as a family to cook a meal in honor of our services and mission,” they said. “We created a ‘cooking inspiration package’ with measuring spoons, a cutting board, spices and recipes. One of the recipes was from a local restaurant, salmon with a raspberry chipotle spice mix sprinkled led on top. … Some participants cooked beforehand, but most cooked on the day and then emailed pictures of the dinners they had made. We posted the picture on social media so others could get a good look at the food and what others had cooked.”

And what about holding the event this year? As the ladies explained, they are planning to have a committee meeting soon to decide whether to hold the event in-person again this fall. It seems everyone is looking forward to its return.