Louisa Walters discovers a new meaning to comfort eating…

It’s A fact: Jews like to eat. Equally true is that Jews like to do their bit for good causes. Small wonder, then, that combining the two elements attracts more interest than the average fund-raising event and, spurred on by a chalish, several charities are running food-related events this winter.

brunch

A tempting layout suitable for a charity brunch; right,

Things have certainly moved on from the supper-quiz days of my youth when paper plates, plastic forks and slices of dry rye bread were de rigueur. Now it’s all about lavish lunches, tempting teas and delicious dinners thrown by people all over the country, who open the doors to their own homes to entertain in the name of raising both money and awareness of good causes. Chana’s Tea-cember campaign is a prime example. 

The Chana charity, which relies totally on private donations, is where Jewish couples go for emotional and medical support when struggling with infertility. A confidential telephone helpline, one-to-one and couple counselling and educational programmes are all part of the services offered by an expert medical advisory panel, which has been instrumental in helping 560 babies into the world since the charity began.

custard cream cake

The giant custard-cream cake that proved a big hit in Barnet

“One in six couples in the UK have trouble conceiving and very often they simply don’t know where to turn for help,” Chana’s fundraising and community development coordinator, Louisa Goott, says. “It is particularly distressing in the Jewish community as the religion and the festivals are extremely child- and family-orientated. It’s no coincidence that our helpline is considerably busier in the lead-up to Jewish holidays, especially Chanukah and Purim.” 

That’s why Hendon-based Chana makes the most of the festive season by encouraging people to host tea parties throughout December and invite their friends and families to come along and make a donation.

Last year’s Tea-cember raised £23,000 through 84 events across the country and internationally, with many people using it as an opportunity to host Chanukah parties at their shuls or children’s schools.

“It’s up to the host to decide how big or small, informal or fancy to make the party,” Louisa says. “If you simply want to put the kettle on and open a pack of biscuits, that’s fine; if you want to go the extra mile with cucumber sandwiches and scones, that’s great too! “Jewish News’ cookery writer Denise Phillips has offered to support Tea-cember and will come along to give a demonstration to your guests,” adds Louisa.

“The main thing is to raise awareness and, of course, funds. Once you sign up on our website we will send you everything you need to know, and a video link you can play to your guests to give them facts and figures about Chana and what we do. It’s a piece of cake!”

Lee Bladon with his daughter Evie. Lee supports Camp Simcha, which he says has ‘thrown his family a lifeline’

Lee Bladon with his daughter Evie. Lee supports Camp Simcha, which he says has ‘thrown his family a lifeline’

At Camp Simcha, it is all about dinner – or at least the organisers would like it to be, because in order to spread the word about its work, the charity recently came up with the idea of asking people to host awareness dinners. Rachel Plancey was 17 when she started Camp Simcha from her home in 1995.

She never dreamed that nearly 20 years later she would receive the prime minister’s prestigious Point of Light Award, which recognises people who are making a change in their communities and inspiring others.

Together with her husband Meir, Rachel has grown the charity into an organisation that supports hundreds of families with children suffering from cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.

Last year it made 3,000 calls to parents, 2,000 visits to children and provided 1,000 hospital transports. The awareness dinners, hosted in private homes, are a fun, table-laden way of letting lots of people – the hungrier the better – discover more about Camp Simcha and prompt them to host awareness dinners in their homes, too.

Camp Simcha provides a guest speaker or shows a film that contains stories told by some of the families who benefit from its services, which include family retreats, summer schemes for children, counselling, home-based respite care and family liaison officers who provide care to each family 24/7.

“It’s heart-warming to hear first-hand how families find the courage and strength to go on supporting each other though the really challenging times, and to see how the charity helps them,” says Camp Simcha’s major donor fundraiser, Nicky Secker.

Lee Bladon, whose daughter Evie, two, suffered oxygen deprivation at birth leaving her profoundly brain damaged, says that Camp Simcha has thrown his family a lifeline. Not only have his other two children, aged four and six, benefited from the charity’s big brother/sister scheme, but they have also enjoyed the special events and the whole family has enjoyed the retreat. “Camp Simcha is one big family and everyone feels part of it,” he says.

Actress Tracy Ann Oberman is a supporter of the charity and radio host Nick Ferrari is an honorary patron. You can book in for breakfast, brunch, lunch, tea or dinner with Nicki’s Smile, a charity set up by Nicki Blake’s family and friends after she died aged just 33 in 2010 from pancreatic cancer. The condition is the fifth most common cause of cancer deaths but research is woefully underfunded, so the charity raises money with the aim of improving survival statistics through research and early-diagnosis initiatives.

The first ‘Dine with Nicki’s Smile’ campaign ran last year and 340 people around the world hosted or attended foodie events, raising more than £7,000. It was a real call to action and the charity’s Twitter and Facebook feeds were full of pictures and menus of things people had made, from a simple bagel brunch to gourmet dinners with boeuf bourguignon, apple and brandy-soaked raisin strudel and chocolate Kahlua mousse.This year’s campaign is running this coming weekend.

“This is such an easy way to support a charity,” says Dan Blake, Nicki’s husband. “We all like to entertain our friends and family – you can invite them round as usual and ask them to make a donation instead of bringing a gift.

You don’t have to be mega-creative, but last year Suzanne and Gavin Sirett from Barnet hosted a brunch and wowed all their friends with two amazing homemade cakes, a giant custard-cream and a giant bourbon!” Nicki's Smile 3 (3)

Baby-food and nutrition expert Annabel Karmel is supporting Dine with Nicki’s Smile and has some special suggestions for dishes that hosts can serve, such as roasted chicken with sweet peppers or vegetable fusilli.

If you’re not the roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-cooking type, help is just a phone call away. The Roving Chef is an organisation run by Hayley Edwards, who offers one-to-one cookery classes in clients’ own homes. She works with people who have never opened an oven door right through to those who want to hone their choux-pastry skills.

Alternatively, many caterers are happy to provide dishes for small events, so hosts can sit back and relax as much as their guests. For example, Simon Rapkin at Food Events is catering a charity dinner this month for a long-standing client who has used the company regularly in the past for simchas and parties.

“The guests will be served an elegant meal in a formal style,” Simon says. “We’ve worked hard to create an interesting yet non-offensive menu, using only fish and vegetarian items, and for one guest who is strictly kosher we have arranged a Hermolis meal.”

Camp Simcha 020 8202 9297 – www.campsimcha.org.uk

Chana 020 8203 8455  www.chana.org.uk

Nicki’s Smile, www.nickissmile.com

Roving Chef, 07768 901 550 www.rovingchef.net

Food Events 020 8453 0300 www.foodevents.co.uk