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A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, Mandy Bailey was a French teacher, continuously talking about food en français. She worked restaurant and catering gigs during her college days and started Bacon & Bakin’ Catering and Cakery. Then she worked for a huge, industrial strength food firm, where sadly she saw lots of food being thrown away. She also witnessed many people–even employees–being refused food. This broke her heart.

Then a friend introduced her to the concept of Community Cafés. That day in 2012 changed her life. Mandy began brainstorming with her friend Denise Cerreta, founder of One World Everybody Eats. She contacted lots of Buffalo nonprofits, and even traveled to Denver to volunteer at a Community Café there.

She learned that a Community Café feeds everybody who walks through the door. Menu items have a suggested donation amount rather than a set price which encourages non-financial contributions and pays it forward. She discovered that Community Cafés reduce the stigma associated with need, promote healthy and local eating, build community, and provide workforce development through volunteer opportunities—in short, they are a dignified response to hunger in a community. With pay-as-you-can pricing and a significant volunteer component in day-to-day operations, she had found a way to give everyone a chance to earn what they need by giving what they can.

Mandy had barely put the wheels in motion to create a Community Café in Buffalo when she was diagnosed with a rare neurological condition that limits her mobility. Despite this setback and with the help of many friends, she continued to press forward with what she had named the Big Big Table.

I met Mandy during her years of personal struggle to realize this dream. She was involved in every community-centric event (including Buffalo Citybration) and was relentless in her pursuit of the ideal venue. The first question anyone asked when they ran into her was always, “Have you found a venue yet?” There were many possibilities, many false hopes, many dead ends. A veritable roller coaster, but she persisted.

Then, just when Mandy and her team had finally found the perfect location, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Instead of throwing in the towel, they decided to use this challenging time to “get ready to open the doors to feed anybody and everybody!” exclaims Mandy, undeterred and clearly still passionate. “The need for the Big Big Table will be even greater in the wake of this shutdown.”

The space is at 272 Hudson Street. It is close to move-in ready, but help is needed to purchase the commercial kitchen equipment from the previous restaurant owner who has offered to sell it to the Big Big Table for just a fraction of its value: $7,500.

When we saw the launch of the Big Big Table crowdfunding campaign last week, we realized that Nickel Chef: Buffalo’s Finest Chefs and Ingredients, by Christa Glennie Seychew, would be the perfect giveaway to both encourage people to contribute, and to thank them for supporting this important project. Why? Because this beautiful book & DVD is all about food, sourcing locally, and the farm-to-table movement. Food for Change by Nate Peracciny, the DVD which comes with the book, shares the philosophy and message of the Big Big Table itself. Could there be a more perfect gift for Big Big Table supporters? So we offered to donate copies of these books & DVDs to the crowdsourcing campaign. How could we not live up to our City of Light Publishing mission and “be a light?”

The response to the Big Big Table crowdfunding campaign has been overwhelmingly successful so far. This is the City of Good Neighbors, after all. However, there are many needs beyond just the kitchen equipment. So our $25 book/DVD will be used to help reach the “stretch goal,” allowing the group to cover a host of additional start-up costs. We are thrilled to have found a way to benefit the community during these challenging times. So thrilled in fact that I have agreed to do my first ever Facebook Live at Noon on Thursday, May 21st. Tune in – it should be very interesting!

Please give what you can and ask others to do the same—you could end up with a copy of Nickel City Chef!

Where? ONLINE @ https://www.givegab.com/campaigns/help-big-big-table-open

And stay tuned to the website and social media for details about when the Big Big Table will be able to open. They are looking forward to feeding us!

Mandy Bailey says, “Bon appétit, y’all!” Marti Gorman says, “Be a light!”

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