Cooking for a Cause
Annual event’s total proceeds close in on $1 million.
Chef Doug Wodja prepares several courses for the April 2008 Cooking for a Cause.
When members of a men’s Bible study at Trinity Episcopal Church started making sandwiches for some of downtown’s homeless population in 1978, they didn’t imagine where their service would lead.
“We would never have guessed that the need was so great,” says Keenan Barnard, a member of that Bible study and this year’s Cooking for a Cause Honorary Chair Party emcee. “Unfortunately, the need keeps getting greater.”
Today Iron Gate, the nonprofit that grew from their efforts, serves hot meals seven days a week, distributes food through its grocery pantry and makes sure the children who come through its doors receive additional healthy snacks.
“It’s been a little controversial,” Barnard says. “Some business people don’t like seeing the homeless downtown. But they’re a part of our community, one we need to take care of.”
Actually, only about 25 percent of the people who eat at the soup kitchen are homeless. The rest are low-income, working poor.
Iron Gate does not receive state or federal funding, so the organization has the freedom to meet needs as it sees fit. Guests are not required to meet specific criteria before they receive food. According to Executive Director Connie Cronley, “If people walk through our door and say they’re hungry, that’s enough.”
Although Iron Gate is still housed in the basement of Trinity, where it began, over the years it separated legally and financially from the church, becoming a trust of the church in 1984, and an officially independent nonprofit in 2009. It is in the midst of a quiet capital campaign to build its own facility.
Throughout its history, Iron Gate has received funding from numerous individuals, community organizations and businesses, including the Zarrow Foundations, Williams Cos., the Oxley Foundation and the George Kaiser Family Foundation.
The Chapman Foundations
This year, Iron Gate’s primary fundraising event, Cooking for a Cause, celebrates its 10th anniversary as well as the support of the Chapman Foundations, which are the honorary chairs of this year’s gala.
“Iron Gate is a reflection of the Chapman Foundations and other private foundations and individuals who support this loving, caring community,” Cronley says. “The Chapmans were pioneers of giving who have set an example for us to follow.”
The Chapman Foundations have been key donors for countless city projects, including A Gathering Place for Tulsa, the Allen Chapman Student Union and H.A. Chapman Stadium at the University of Tulsa and Chapman Centennial Green downtown. They also have contributed generously to local hospitals, schools and other charitable organizations.
“What’s important in this world is people being nice and helping out,” Barnard says. “You see that a lot in the Tulsa community and many times over with the Chapman Foundations.”
Trustees Donne Pitman and Jerry Dickman will represent the Chapman Foundations at Cooking for a Cause. Pitman says feeding the hungry was just one of the causes important to the late Harry Allen and Mary Chapman.
“Though each had patterns of giving during their lives, the foundations are directed simply to benefit mankind,” Dickman says. “This allows us to endow a wide variety of charities where we believe our grants will make a significant difference.”
“Community is a consequence,” Pitman says. “It results when people come together to accomplish things that are important to them and succeed. People who are uninvolved cannot feel this connection.”
Evolution of an event
In the past nine years, Cooking for a Cause has raised just over $890,000, which has been used for general operations.
The event originally was conceived and executed in 2006 by TulsaPeople as a unique fundraiser for Iron Gate. It took place four times per year at the Appliance Gallery by Metro Builders Supply on Brookside. Each event featured one chef. In October 2009, after the Appliance Gallery closed, the venue moved to a larger showroom on South Mingo Road: Metro Appliances & More. After the move, the format changed to one annual gala event that seats about 200 people and features multiple chefs at different cooking stations.
This year, Executive Chef Jonathan Moosmiller, certified master chef at Southern Hills Country Club, is one of two coordinating chefs, along with Executive Chef Grant
Vespasian, who works for Women in Recovery at Family & Children’s Services. All participating chefs and restaurants donate their time and ingredients to this event.
Cronley says Cooking for a Cause is popular because it’s not your typical sit-down, black tie event. There are no long speeches, and attendees are able to move around and interact with the chefs.
Attendees also can cast votes for their favorite dish. One year, the crowd favorite was the Iron Gate kitchen staff’s lasagna. They will return this year to prove they can hold their own against some of Tulsa’s best chefs.
Oct. 13 — 10th annual Cooking for a Cause
6:30 p.m. Metro Appliances & More, 5313 S. Mingo Road. $125. Contact Meghann Ray at Iron Gate, 918-359-9039, or visit www.irongatetulsa.org.