MORAGA -- Last year's initial "Food for Thought" fundraiser for Loaves and Fishes of Contra Costa drew a sellout crowd of 250 people -- about the same size guest list as served at this year's second annual event.
Organizers had hoped to raise $13,000 last year for the Concord-based nonprofit's programs, which serve more than 3,500 meals per week and distribute four tons of groceries per month to the hungry in Contra Costa County. Instead, the 2012 event raised $40,000 -- three times the projected amount.
"We talked about it being a best-kept-secret party, because during Loaves and Fishes 30 years, they'd never done a fundraising event," said Jay Lifson, Lafayette Chamber of Commerce executive director.
This year, Joleen Lafayette said hopes were high for another $40,000 performance at the second annual Food for Thought event. But the bash raised more than $50,000 for Loaves and Fishes expenses -- utilities, rent, supplies and other day-to-day costs.
"It went really well; this year had the heat, but we had umbrellas and we handled it all right," said Lafayette, Loaves and Fishes' development director. "This will definitely be an annual event."
Ahead of last year's inaugural event, Lifson called on contacts from his hospitality background and pitching appeals to local chefs, Lifson led a team of volunteers and staff through the ins-and-outs of a food-related event.
He and David Gerson, Loaves and Fishes' executive director, even tried to get 100 people from Lafayette to each donate $1,000. They didn't quite make it, but Gerson's not complaining.
"Last year's sellout was due to the excellent quality of chefs who generously donated their time and food," he said. Donations and sponsors, like new premiere sponsor Wells Fargo Bank and silver sponsor DD Co., cover the event's costs, meaning ticket sales and auction proceeds go directly into Loaves and Fishes' operations, and service to clients.
Of course, "Food for Thought" wasn't all about thinking. It was about food, and an impressive lineup of local chefs took part. They included representatives of Whole Foods and Pyramid Alehouse, plus chefs Stewart Beatty (Postino), Philippe Chevalier (Chevalier Restaurant), Darius Somary (Springloaf Catering), John Townsend (Orinda Country Club), Kevin Weinberg (Walnut Creek Yacht Club), Chris Amsden (Rustic Tavern), Esteban Escobar (Corner's Tavern), Scott Wall (Lark Creek) and Loaves and Fishes' very own James Porter -- a onetime Loaves and Fishes client years ago -- who prepared his jambalaya for this occasion.,
In 2013, the big push is to fill their clients' plates with more than meat and potatoes. Partnering with other nonprofit service agencies, whose clients learn L&F food service skills, Lafayette said the expanding sphere of influence helps people find jobs, secure housing and live independently of the "safety net."
The benefit, Lifson said, isn't limited to Loaves and Fishes' clients.
"You go to L&F, thinking you are going to help someone -- and what you get out of it is twice as much as what you put into it," Lifson said.