Food for a Cause
By Lorna Oppedisano | Photography by Mary Grace Johnson
A little more than seven years ago, self-proclaimed foodies Renee and Tim Duffy were sitting with local chef Kevin Gentile, pitching him an idea that would eventually become Philanthropic Foodies, the annual event that’s raised more than $270,000 for local nonprofits.
“It was a bit of a harebrained idea in the beginning,” Renee said, thinking back to that initial conversation. “Hey, Kevin,” they’d asked, “if we get 20 people, will you come to our house and cook and we’ll donate money to charity?”
Kevin agreed. As they started planning, the number of people kept increasing. Before long, they had 100 people interested in attending.
“You can’t do it at your house,” Kevin told them. “The logistics that are involved are just crazy.”
He challenged them to attract 200 people to the event. Kevin agreed if they hit that magic number, he would close his restaurant on a Sunday and donate the space to the charity event. The couple worked with fellow executive committee member Paula Miller to achieve the goal.
“So, he pushed us,” Renee said. “It was just kind of a crazy idea and we were like, ‘OK, let’s do it.’”
That year, they raised $27,000 for Samaritan Center and Friends of Dorothy House. The funds donated to Friends of Dorothy House essentially provided the nonprofit with half of 2012’s operating budget.
Renee became familiar with the Central New York area when she moved from New Hartford to study communication design at Syracuse University. She met her husband and decided to stay.
About six months after graduating, she took a job at CXtec in graphic design. With the exception of a few years working for The Eventful Group, Renee’s spent the majority of her career with CXtec. She’s currently the vice president of marketing at CXtec and TERACAI.
It’s thanks to her time at CXtec that Renee is so invested in the local nonprofit community. One of the company’s core values is commitment to the community, she explained. That commitment also guided Renee to Leadership Greater Syracuse.
“Those things really spurred my passion for giving back to the community,” she said.
Working various positions at CXtec gave Renee an appreciation for everything it takes to get a job done, she said. Those few years away from the company also instilled in her new knowledge, too.
“Leaving is not always a bad thing, I’ve learned,” she said, explaining that her time in events production taught her about relationship building, networking, meeting the right people and making connections on a different scale. “I wouldn’t have been prepared for the job I’m doing now without having that experience.”
It was during her time with Eventful that Philanthropic Foodies was born.
During that first “harebrained” year, the cofounders established a committee, something that’s been invaluable over the years as the event has grown and evolved.
They’ve also maintained the partnership with Friends of Dorothy House each year.
“They’re huge supporters,” Renee said. “As much as we are supporting them, they are supporting us and networking and getting it out in the community.”
Along with Friends of Dorothy House, Philanthropic Foodies has benefited six other area nonprofits over the years: The Samaritan Center, On Point for College, CancerConnects, Signature Music, The First Tee Syracuse and GiGi’s Playhouse.
“We look for charities that are doing really good work under the radar,” Renee said. “So, they might not take government funding. They may have no staff [or] be completely run by volunteers, but they’re making an impact.”
The Philanthropic Foodies organizers hope to not only raise funds for their nonprofit partners, but also raise awareness.
In its inaugural year, Kevin Gentile recruited two local chefs to participate: Eva’s European Sweets’ Eva Zaczynski and Scotch ‘n Sirloin chef Yann Guigne, formerly of L’Adour. Since the beginning, the committee has had no trouble attracting and retaining chefs willing to be involved each year.
With new restaurants and culinary endeavors opening in the area quite frequently, Renee hopes the event will help show Central New Yorkers — self-proclaimed foodies and novices alike — the myriad of options the region has to offer.
“It’s Syracuse, N.Y., and that may not scream ‘food destination,’” she said, “but the chefs are really great and they’re doing creative things.”
The 7th annual Philanthropic Foodies culinary showcase will take place on Sunday, July 29 at Marriott Syracuse Downtown from 4-8 p.m. The event will feature 17 local chefs, beverage tastings, live and silent auctions, and live entertainment. Proceeds will benefit Friends of Dorothy House and Shamrock Animal Fund. Tickets are available at www.philanthropicfoodies.org.