Contributing to Community Prosperity
Cooking is a way of life for Angela Ray’s family, and when she relocated to Denver from Kansas City, Missouri, she missed that connection, as well as the “mom-and-pop shops where you could go to feel like you had a home-cooked meal.” So, Ray left her job in the cable industry and founded Taste the Love Cooking, which offers Kansas City barbeque and a variety of Southern dishes and desserts.
Taste the Love was among 15 small local catering companies owned by women and people of color invited to the University of Denver in February so school staff could sample their food and consider them for future events. Graduate School of Social Work Director of Community Engagement Trish Becker-Hafnor helped to organize the event in partnership with the Center for Community Wealth Building. “I had made the commitment that all of our Office of Community Engagement events would use catering businesses owned by women and people of color for the next year,” says Becker-Hafnor, noting that the University spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on catering each year. “We talk a lot about our social justice values, and the University says it wants to support community wealth building. This is a way we can put those values into practice.”
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Communities of color have long been excluded from economic opportunities and have been particularly hard hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even when the local economy was thriving, small businesses like Ray’s had difficulty competing with the large corporations that usually snag lucrative university contracts. And they don’t have a financial cushion to absorb big hits such as the pandemic, which caused the catering business to dry up almost overnight. Supporting local businesses — particularly those owned by people of color — is one way to close the wealth gap and benefit the whole community economically and socially, the Center for Community Wealth Building says.
Now the only employee in her business, Ray pivoted to offer pie kits to the public using her great grandmother Hattie’s recipe. “My great grandmother made a pie crust that people loved — it’s so buttery and flaky,” says Ray, who offers 12 sweet and savory pie kits that people can assemble and bake at home. Her personal favorite is the sweet potato pie — another recipe handed down from Hattie.
“Especially during the holiday time when you can’t be with family and friends, it feels good to offer what my great grandmother gave to us,” Ray says. “Everything is done by hand and done with love.”
When the pandemic ends and in-person events resume, Becker-Hafnor says she’ll honor her pledge to support community businesses. Often, she says, University staff are busy and do what is easy. “But we can change lives. There are 2,000 people on campus with a purchasing card. We can really make an impact and live into our social justice values.”
“If we see where our spending is going and whether it aligns with our values, we can direct that somewhere that would benefit the community that surrounds and supports us.”
Build Community by Buying Local
GSSW students intern with some terrific local social enterprises, including the Women’s Bean Project and EarthLinks. Think creatively about gifting, and consider supporting local organizations and small businesses — particularly those owned and run by women and people of color — during the giving season and every day. Learn more about a few options below:
Girls Inc. of Metro Denver
Girls Inc. of Metro Denver focuses on the development of the whole girl (ages 6–18) through long-lasting mentoring relationships, a pro-girl environment and research-based programming. Girls Inc. of Metro Denver’s Bold Beans social enterprise sells coffee and tea from women-owned farms and cooperatives from around the world. 100% of the proceeds from Bold Beans’ sales support the Girls Inc. mission.
Gift Ideas from Bold Beans include:
- Holiday Hot Cocoa
- Holiday Par-Tea
- Bold Beans Coffee Blend
The Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking supports affiliate Simple Switch, which strives to reforest underdeveloped nations, empower the underemployed, protect our national parks and more. Each product sold on the Simple Switch website is produced through partners that promote a wide range of impacts, from environmental innovations to the support of global development projects.
Gift Ideas from Simple Switch include:
- Women’s, men’s and children’s clothes and accessories
- Self-care items such as rejuvenating lotions and candles
- Dog treats
EarthLinks forms connections among people and with Earth for their mutual benefit. Their mission is to cultivate transformation and self-worth with people experiencing homelessness and poverty. The EarthLinks Workshop is a social enterprise program where participants do organic gardening and create Earth-friendly products. Participants are paid hourly while earning a monthly stipend to help pay for housing, groceries, transportation, medical care, or other personal needs.
Gift Ideas from EarthLinks include:
- Health and wellness items such as soap and lip balm
- House plants
- Earrings sourced from recycled materials
R Bazaar honors the journey of refugee and immigrant artisans by showcasing their food, art and entrepreneurship. R Bazaar coordinates pop-up markets and supports vendors at community events. They also provide training and resources to help artisans grow their businesses and achieve their dreams. Many R Bazaar products can be found at Ruby’s Market on South Pearl St. in Denver, but they are also available online.
Gift Ideas from R Bazaar include:
- Art prints and decorative items
GrowHaus offers food distribution programs that provide healthy and affordable food options for residents of Globeville and Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods in Denver, Colorado. Programs help instill healthy eating and wellness habits at a young age while also teaching youth to advocate for themselves and their community. They source seasonal products and support local farmers and businesses as much as possible — and provide local produce for the entire Denver metro area to help fund the organization’s mission.
Gift Ideas from GrowHaus include:
- Food box subscription
- Food box gift card
Alma Kitchen & Catering
Ruben Valentin learned the art of cooking with his mother growing up — she taught him to prepare meals and about traditional Latin cuisine. Cooking became Ruben’s career path as he gained robust experience with a variety of cuisines in New York. He is now settled in Colorado, where he founded Alma Kitchen & Catering. He values using local and sustainable practices, and his menus focus on specialty diets, including vegan, gluten-free, paleo and more.
Gift Ideas from Alma Kitchen & Catering include:
- A 4-course dinner event
- Catering for your holiday meal
Taste the Love Cooking
A Kansas City, Missouri, native who brings her own style of barbecue to the Denver area, Angela Ray’s food is influenced by the tastes of her childhood, including family gatherings where absolutely everything — from appetizer to dessert — was cooked on the grill, and Sunday dinners at the local barbecue restaurant, where the weekly specials were always a surprise.
Gift Ideas from Taste the Love Cooking include:
- Sweet or savory pie kits
E Hijole Tacos
Elena Martinez is the proud owner of E Hijole Tacos, a family-run catering business that delivers authentic tacos via a taco cart or drop-off catering. Elena believes good food brings people together and will help create a lasting impression. She also started Mi Casa Resource Center, which supports entrepreneurs through all stages of business development, helping them to explore, launch and grow their business.
Gift Ideas from E Hijole Tacos includes:
- Taco boxes that serve 6–8 guests
Madhoo is an immigrant from New Delhi, India, and firmly believes that food is one of the best mediums to connect us to our culture. She opened Roots Colorado to satisfy the yearning of people to experience foods from their travels or their home country. Roots offers a single place to satisfy different palates and supports nonprofits working with local purveyors and who are “madly in love” with environmental sustainability.
Gift Ideas from Roots Colorado includes:
- Bakery treats such as Hanukkah Sufganiyot
- An international holiday dessert box
- Roots gift card