WASHINGTON – After almost five months of unemployment, Martha Cooley will be working again next week.
The 47-year-old D.C. resident lost a secretarial position in November. A mother of three, she couldn’t afford to be without work for long but couldn’t find another clerical job.
A friend told her about Community Family Life Services, a program that teaches new job skills to unemployed men and women. Now, four months later, Cooley is ready to work again, perhaps even start her own business.
“I’ve found I like catering. I’m thinking that’s something I can do on my own. I can sign my name to it,” she said.
Community Family Life Services is one of four District-based nonprofit groups that will benefit directly from this year’s “Taste of the Nation,” to be held April 26 in Union Station.
The other grant recipients are the Capital Area Community Food Bank, a distributor for 597 food programs in the D.C. area; the House of Ruth, an agency serving battered women and children; and Food and Friends, an organization that provides meals to housebound AIDS patients.
The fund-raiser, established in 1988, is a series of food tastings and dinners held in 110 cities in the United States and Canada.
Eighty-four area restaurants and food distributors will contribute to the food and wine tasting benefit.
For the $65 advance ticket price, event guests “get to eat to their heart’s content, all the city’s finest foods,” said Ann Andrews, “Taste of the Nation’s” media relations director.
“The beauty of the event is we get corporate sponsors to underwrite operating expenses, so 100 percent of the benefits go to the charities,” Andrews said.
The fund-raiser has raised more than $14 million nationwide since it began, said Ellen Nash, an event spokeswoman. D.C. charities have received more than $430,000, she said.
Last year’s event in the District raised $125,000, Nash said. This year, the goal is $150,000.
That money makes a huge difference in the quality of life for the area’s poor, grant recipients say.
The money can mean the difference “between eating and not eating,” said Lynn Brantley, executive director of the Capital Area Community Food Bank.
The food bank estimates that it provides 10 million pounds of food annually, through soup kitchens, church organizations and other nonprofit groups. About 1 million pounds of last year’s donations were a result of “Taste of the Nation,” Brantley said.
Mickie Ballota, development director of Food and Friends, said “Taste of the Nation” has helped her program to grow from serving 60 housebound AIDS patients one meal a day in 1990 to providing 415 people with three meals a day in 1994.
The District ranked fifth in the nation as of June 1994 for the number of AIDS cases, said a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control.
Other programs helped by “Taste of the Nation” also have had a positive effect on people’s lives.
Community Family Life Services received about $22,000 from the event last year. That money allowed the program to provide restaurant training to 20 additional people and graduate them into full-time jobs, said the Rev. Thomas Knoll, executive director of the program.
“Without the money, people would still be out on the streets,” Knoll said.
He said the program has been benefitting from the “Taste of the Nation” for four years.
“We teach people to be self-sufficient,” Knoll said. “We teach them to fish rather than giving them fish.”
Cooley appreciates what the program has done for her.
“It’s been really good to me. It’s given me another chance,” she said. Advance tickets can be purchased by calling 1-800-955-TASTE. Tickets also can be purchased at the door, for $75. -30-