A Spark for Food Justice

When it comes to brainstorming sessions, almost nothing can get your  wheels turning better than food. It’s the ingredient that powers our mind to think outside the box. Many great ideas were discovered over a few slices of pizza, with conversations by a group of diverse individuals. That’s what FoodSpark is trying to do: Create social change through their community potlucks.

The Spark is an event organized by FoodSpark,  a pop-up diner that crowdfunds microgrants for projects and ideas relating to social issues. This month’s Oct. 20 gathering was hosted at the historic  Annie Malone Home located in the Ville neighborhood.

Food Spark creator De Andrea Nichols (CQ) said, “The Annie Malone Home is a community space with a mission and legacy that exists in great alignment with the community partners in The Ville, that we have been engaging in our current series on food access and food justice.”

Before FoodSpark became a staple in the community, Nichols was in graduate school at Washington University St. Louis. At that time, FoodSpark was a dinner party series for newcomers to the St. Louis region. However, visiting restaurants to welcome travelers to St. Louis became too expensive. Nichols decided to transition FoodSpark into a potluck dinner party where people can volunteer their homes to host others for conversations about brave topics like racism, toxic masculinity, educational segregation and cultural appropriation.

The Spark comes around three times a year. The series has partnered with local organizations including Young Friends of The Ville, Northside Community, Inc. and St. Louis Food Policy Coalition. The partnerships in this particular series aims to fund initiatives working on issues of food legacies, social justice and empowerment in the historic Ville neighborhood.

According to Nichols, relationships with Young Friends of the Ville and leaders of Northside Community Housing steered focus on The Ville community, and with a wealth of young people spearheading health and food-based initiatives like public gardens and more.

“We collectively saw FoodSpark as a platform that could help shepherd conversation and support for the ideas and efforts community members are creating,” said Nichols.

For a suggested $10 donation, guests have dinner and read through one-page project proposals from community organizations. The community organizations then present a  two-minute presentation and audience members vote on their favorite proposals. The winning team receive a microgrant to help actualize or expand their work.

Since starting Spark, the group has funded three projects: Transfuturisms, Flower Boi Spa Day and Queer People of Color STL, as part of their “Arts & Culture” and LGBTQ crowdfunding dinners.

In the midst of a recent Spark community dinner, two participants met and started an initiative called Humans of St. Louis.

FoodSpark feels their role is in the community is vital and has started the development of conversation guides, tools and other structures to help people partner with organizations, to sustain and deepen the connections that were being made.

If you have a project or idea that promotes, supports, or engages issues of food justice, access, or empowerment? Send your one-page proposal to team@foodspark.org to be considered. Include your name, the project title and contact information. For more information, visit foodspark.org.

Ashley Winters

Author: Ashley Winters

Ashley Winters is a staff reporter at The NorthSider. She's a north St. Louis native and a graduate of Columbia College Chicago. In the near future she plans to write and publish children's books. She can be reached at ashley.winters@thenorthsider.com

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