MONTREAL — Margaret Atwood did it. So did Natan Sharansky. Even the Dalai Lama tried his hand.
These three famous names, which you may never see in the same paragraph again, have all drawn or doodled on a blank plate sent to them by Mazon, an organization they’d probably never heard of, but whose cause is universal: feeding the undernourished right here at home.
Atwood, Sharansky and the Dalai Lama are among 30 international celebrities who agreed to join a new Mazon Canada initiative called The Event, on Nov. 22.
Mazon, which means food or sustenance in Hebrew, is a grassroots Jewish organization that, since 1986, has allocated over $8 million to more than 170 organizations, including food banks, community kitchens and school meal programs, across Canada. Its motto is “a Jewish response to hunger,” but the money is distributed on a non-sectarian basis.
The Montreal chapter, founded in 1987 by Dodo Heppner, who remains very much involved, contributes to 80 such organizations in Quebec, ranging from Cuisines collectives Hochelaga-Maisonneuve and St. James United Church’s drop-in centre to Ahavas Chesed, which serves the haredi communities. Most of the organizations helping the needy in the Jewish community here are beneficiaries.
This year, Mazon is trying something different: for 16 years, its major fundraiser has been the annual Kosher Food Fest, where local caterers showed off their flavours at a gala evening held at Congregation Shaar Hashomayim.
The Event will include an auction of the celebrity-decorated plates and a cocktail dinatoire featuring many of the caterers who have generously participated in the Kosher Food Fest over the years. More than 20 caterers, hotels and food purveyors are taking part in the evening, which will be held at Complexe Dompark on St. Patrick Street near the Lachine Canal, a century-old former textile factory.
Although they’re the ones providing the eats, they can relax at the event itself: Mazon volunteers will be doing all the serving.
As in the past, everything else is being donated, including plates, arts and crafts supplies, framing and shipping. Caterer Danielle Bitton, a longtime Mazon supporter, is offering event planning services through her company Wave, while CJAD radio host Aaron Rand will serve as auctioneer, and Brian Harris of Luxe Rentals as DJ.
Event co-chair Jayne Schneider Lisak said, “according to the latest statistics, for 2010, food bank use reached its highest level on record, feeding up to 870,000 Canadians every month, 40 per cent of whom are children.”
When needs rise, contributions to the banks and other food programs typically fall, she noted.
Among other celebrities who stepped up to the plate, so to speak, are actors Rachelle Lefevre and Tori Spelling, former prime minister Paul Martin, celebrity chefs Bobby Flay and Mario Batali, Canadian astronaut Dave Williams, retired ballerina Karen Kain, and fashion designer Simon Chang.
Sure to become a collector’s item is the contribution of Spiderman creator Stan Lee.
Lisak’s co-chair, Sara Heppner-Waldston approache the Dalai Lama at a recent conference at the Palais des congrès. Lisak said the Tibetan Buddhist leader was most gracious and readily agreed to draw on a plate when the cause was explained to him.
Tracking down celebrities took months of volunteers “phoning, e-mailing, snail mailing, begging, charming and trying to convince celebrities from the worlds of politics, literature, sports, space, entertainment, fashion and food to participate.
“It was a horrible process with secretaries slamming down the phones and e-mails deleted…Impresarios, who, like the Wizard of Oz, were never seen; assistants told the ladies they were crazy to even think a celebrity would agree to this foolishness.”
Mazon is truly grassroots and not that well connected, Lisak said. “There is not a socialite in sight, not one ‘connectable connection,’ which makes what they have accomplished all the more impressive.”
In addition to the auction, Mazon also launched a children’s project this year called Foodles (food and doodles).
One hundred children in grade 5 classes at Akiva School and Miss Edgar’s and Miss Cramp’s School in Westmount watched and discussed a video about hunger in Montreal and then expressed what they learned through art.
Instead of china dishware, they were given paper plates which they decorated just like the celebrities.
Their creations were judged by art dealers Michael Millman (West End Gallery), Lauren Shayne (Shayne Gallery) and Dimitrios Koussioulas (Galerie de Bellefeuille). Eighteen plates were selected and their creators will be recognized at The Event with framed versions.
The top six were used as designs for individual gift cards, while the other 12 were merged into a mosaic for another set of cards, which will be sold by the students and Mazon.
The overall winner will appear on The Event program book that will be given to the 800 patrons expected.
“The idea was not just to raise money,” said Lisak, “but to encourage social awareness and community service. Next year, more children, we hope, will be made aware of what is happening around their corners and soon we’ll have a generation that won’t just glance away… they’ll take action.”
For tickets, call the Mazon office, 514-483-6234, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. The basic ticket is $100.