According to one Soup’s On! Luncheon vet chef, this year’s venue was a vast improvement over last year’s fundraiser, when “there were no bowls. The staff seemed like they didn’t know what was going on, as if it was their first day.”
Not so this year. Chief Chef Brian Luscher praised the professionalism of the Hilton Anatole staff and how they were all smiles and greeting each of the chefs (Andrew Dilda, Omar Flores, Danyele McPherson, Suki Otsuki, Caroline Perini, Janice Provost, Anastacia Quinones, Jeramie Robison, Abraham Salum, Nick Walker and Michael Youssef) and their teams on Thursday, January 17.
And speaking of Brian, it was 11 years ago that he orchestrated the chefs to serve up soup for 300 at the House of Blues. Since then the event had been all over downtown Dallas (Reunion Station, Omni Dallas Hotel, The Statler), and this year’s gathering was the biggest yet, with 800 people supping in Hilton Anatole’s Chantilly Ballroom. BTW, that’s just half the number of people that The Stewpot serves seven days a week, 365 days a year.
The headcount of 800 was just right for the Ballroom. There was enough room for servers to take care of tables and for guests to not feel claustrophobic.
On the other hand, the behind-the-scenes hallway where the chefs were warming their soups and ladling them out was cozy, to say the least. Chef Suki Otsuki had a full 24 hours. The following morning, she was scheduled to cook up Jambalaya on KDFW’s “Good Day” with Lauren Przybyl… Chefs Janice Provost and Abraham Salum were comparing photos of their Golden Retrievers that had been shot by photographer Robin Jackson. It seems that Robin had donated her time to photograph all the SPCA’s Paws Cause chefs with their pets to thank them for their time.
But as the chefs were cooking up a storm backstage, the guests were checking out the silent auction items. Right on cue the center doors to the ballroom opened and guests like Honorary Co-Chairs Linda Owen Barnes and Lucy Billingsley with daughter Summer Billingsley, Caren Kline and Rusty Duvall took their places.
Vicki Chapman was over the top with news that daughter Lauren Chapman and Francois Bellemare had set a date for their June wedding….Debbie Johnson, who volunteers at The Bridge, had her clan in for lunch including husband David Johnson, sons Ben Johnson (with wife Tracy Johnson) and Sam Johnson with gal pal Alexandra Gonzales…. Former Stewpot Alliance Executive Director Dr. Bruce Buchanan and his wife Carol Adams were tableside with Margie and Ray Francis and Nelda Cain Pickens…While 2019 Spoon Co-Designer Brad Oldham was out of town on a project, his wife/2019 Spoon Co-Designer Christy Coltrin was joined by daughter Beatrice Morrow.
The program moved along with Co-Chairs Lindsay Billingsley and Jill Tiernan welcoming the group, and emcee Matrice Ellis-Kirk stressing 2018 highlights of The Stewpot, such as: approximately 15,000 homeless and at-risk individuals were served; 357,196 meals were served; 8M meals have been served since The Stewpot opened in 1975; and 66 college and vocation students received scholarships from The Stewpot.
That last point was emphasized throughout the event.
After the presentation of the chefs and soups, and the chefs had gathered for their annual group photo in the lobby, “Etched in Sand” author Regina Calcaterra told the audience of her childhood growing up in the 1970s with four siblings and a mother (Cookie), who was in and out of jail. The youngsters often switched schools so warrants couldn’t catch up with their mom. They loved school because there were toilets that actually flushed. During the summer, the kids would hang out in the library, where Regina fell in love with the Landmark series about leaders who had overcome hardship, achieved success and given back. One of her idols because Amelia Earhart.
After being separated at times and bounced around the foster system, the children made the decision that their strength was in staying together and avoiding foster homes.
By the time she was 11-ish, her two older sisters — Cherie and Camille —were out and about and being teenagers, which meant she was left in charge of the two younger ones — Rosie and Norm. It was also at this time that she started suppressing her appetite, which led to her hair graying and falling out in clumps. When her mother returned home one night and started after Rosie, Regina tried to intervene but got the worst beating of her life. The next day when she went to school, the teacher noted the abuse. The result was that a social worker was sent to her home. The good news was the social worker put her on the track to emancipate herself from her mother. The bad news was the children were once again separated and placed in foster homes. Unfortunately, as Regina was going through the process of emancipation, her mother got permission to see the two younger children for a Christmas visit and kidnapped them.
Regina’s social worker also told her that no one would adopt her because “no one wants to adopt foster children.” But thanks to the school staff, she was put on the path to college, despite her caseworker saying, “foster kids don’t get to college.”
She eventually did go to college and became an education major. But one class changed her path. It was one on international politics, where she learned about world issues. Not only did she feel lucky not to be in one of those unfortunate countries, but she changed her major and was accepted by only one law school – Seton Hall University School of Law — which she wound up attending at night while working during the day.
At the age of 30, she received notice that she had passed the bar and started hyperventilating over the fact that she had risen above decades of struggle.
Her hope had been to help others who had faced similar challenges, but that plan was waylaid when she had the responsibility of finding homes for those displaced by Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
She has continued her mission to let it be known that while there are public resources to help, individuals can make the difference in a foster child’s life. While Regina didn’t have a parent, she had a lot of people for short amounts of time who helped her along the way.
Tying it back to The Stewpot, she said that had there been a program like The Stewpot, her struggle and that of her siblings would have been much easier. She added that The Stewpot also provides help in getting an ID and an address, where the homeless can receive mail and register for such simple things as a library card.