Dinner is served: Chef brings women together to help the homeless

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“I met a man who had worked in restaurants his whole life but had had a stroke and lost all ability to use his hands. This struck me to the core—this could be me," says Duner’s executive chef Laura Fonner, who recently launched a program to provide PACEM clients with home-cooked dinners every Tuesday night. Photo by Jackson Smith “I met a man who had worked in restaurants his whole life but had had a stroke and lost all ability to use his hands. This struck me to the core—this could be me,” says Duner’s executive chef Laura Fonner, who recently launched a program to provide PACEM clients with home-cooked dinners every Tuesday night. Photo by Jackson Smith

Duner’s executive chef Laura Fonner has spearheaded a drive to provide chef-driven, home-cooked suppers for PACEM—an organization that provides cold-weather shelter for the homeless—each Tuesday throughout the winter months. She was inspired to take action after helping to serve at a PACEM dinner late last winter.

“I met a man who had worked in restaurants his whole life but had had a stroke and lost all ability to use his hands,” she says. “This struck me to the core—this could be me. I vowed in that moment that this is something I wanted to get involved in.”

Fonner credits her “secret weapon”—a group of some 80 women in an exercise boot camp she runs in Crozet—with helping launch the program, enabling her to run two shelter dinners (one for men, one for women) in two locations (church members feed PACEM guests on the other nights of the week). Members of Charlottesville Women in Food are also helping with cooking and donations, and Fonner has received food from Autumn Olive Farms, Gryffon’s Aerie, and Sam Rust, as well as financial contributions from The Pie Chest, Tin Whistle Irish Pub, Nona’s Italian Cucina, and Vivace.

With recent donations, the group has also assembled baskets of self-care items and a grab bag of holiday cookies for those staying at PACEM, which moves among various places of worship each week.

Fonner is thrilled to see her dreams so readily turned into reality. “I’m blessed to be surrounded by so many strong and caring women,” she says.

To donate or volunteer, contact Fonner at lfonner23@gmail.com.

Tailgating for change

Trish Clinton—who trained at Tennessee’s famed Blackberry Farm luxury hotel and resort and is now executive chef for Zeta Psi fraternity at UVA—has cooked up a Dave Matthews Band tailgate to benefit Charlottesville’s Sexual Assault Resource Agency. The tailgate will be held at Zeta Psi from 2-4pm on Friday, December 14, before the band’s concert at the John Paul Jones Arena.

Clinton, a self-proclaimed “die-hard” DMB fan, conjured up the plan after becoming frustrated watching the Kavanaugh hearings last fall.

“I found myself angry—you could hear in [Dr. Ford’s] voice what anyone that has experienced sexual assault has felt,” she says. “I needed to do something to make those people feel more supported and put my anger to action. I thought ‘why not combine my loves—food and DMB—to give back?’”

Clinton is partnering with Tailgate Caravan, which has held other philanthropic tailgates at DMB shows, and has tapped into the band’s broad fan base to enlist attendees, with over 100 signed up already (she’s capping it at 200). The suggested minimum donation of $35 per person will cover a full buffet spread, open bar with DMB-themed cocktails and draft beer, and raffle prizes. While fellow members of Charlottesville Women in Food have donated beer and services, Clinton is seeking additional help and donations—large or small—of cash and raffle prizes. For more information, email trishtye@hotmail.com.

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