A Winter Harvest

By - Dec 1st, 2006 02:52 pm
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By Evan Solochek

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During the dreadfully short-lived Milwaukee summer, nestled between the bustling intersection of North Avenue and Kenilworth Place, local artists set up shop in the Beans & Barley parking lot. For many, it’s their only source of income and therefore their livelihoods depend on a strong summer return to get them through the lean, and exhaustive, winter. It was this reality that inspired Laura Richard to launch East Side Artist’s Boutique – Shop to Stop Holiday Hunger.

“The idea initially came to me at the end of the East Side Open Market season as some of the artists discussed how difficult it is in the winter when there are few opportunities to show their work,” Richard says. “I wanted to do something to help them.”

However, local artists are not the only group that this 32-year-old Riverwesterner has spent much of her life helping. She currently works part-time at the Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council, a nonprofit that promotes fair housing practices in Wisconsin. She has also recently started her own business, Laura Richard Consulting, which does event planning, fund raising, marketing and promotions for nonprofits and local businesses.

The East Side Artist’s Boutique will feature around 30 regional artists. In addition to offering these artists a winter market for their work, each will donate one piece for a silent auction with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the Hunger Task Force of Milwaukee; same goes for the $5 cover. Friday evening, Beans & Barley, Twisted Fork, Trocadero, Café Hollander, Balzac, Hi Hat Lounge and Ichiban will be donating appetizers while Beans & Barley will also offer wine for sale, a portion of the proceeds of which will also go to the Hunger Task Force.

For the last 30 years, the Hunger Task Force of Milwaukee has been a voice for the hungry, promoting socially sound policies with the aim of ending hunger in our community. In Wisconsin, according to the Task Force, 9 percent of households are “food insecure,” which means that they are “uncertain of having or unable to acquire enough food for all family members because they had insufficient money or other resources.” Additionally, in Milwaukee, according to the 2004 U.S. Census, 26 percent of Milwaukeeans live in poverty, which ranks seventh in large U.S. cities. For Richard, supporting them was an easy decision.

“Beyond the obvious that they help feed Milwaukeeans who are hungry and sometimes have to choose between rent and food, the Hunger Task Force is active in advocacy work to achieve positive and far-reaching changes in our community,” she says. “My husband and I have taken to giving to the Hunger Task Force for the holidays in lieu of exchanging gifts since they need the money more than we need the ‘stuff.’ I knew if I did a fundraiser for them, I could give them so much more this year. That‘s how I mixed it together.”
Richard strives to live her life selflessly, driven by the immortal words of Gandhi: “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” Being of admittedly limited financial means herself, Richard sees organizing fundraisers as the best way she can help.

Hers is a classic example of walk over talk. “I know that I don’t have thousands to give,” she says. “But I also know that I have the skills required to implement a successful fundraiser at which I could raise thousands.”

And so far, Richard says that the response from the community has been “fantastic. I even had one artist donate two items for the auction because she is from Boston and couldn’t make it back.”
And such generosity really is the key. With the holidays fast approaching, it’s easy to spout tired adages of loving and helping the less fortunate, but Milwaukee is a community in dire need of real action, not mere lip service. So this holiday season, do something to help the community. Go to the East Side Artist’s Boutique, bid on some art and follow in Laura Richard’s footsteps: volunteer, donate to charity or organize a fundraiser. And don’t stop come January 1st, because for the impoverished and hungry in Milwaukee, their battle is year round. VS

East Side Artist’s Boutique – Shop to Stop Holiday Hunger will take place at UWM’s Kenilworth Building at 1925 East Kenilworth Place on Friday, December 15 from 5-9 pm and Saturday, December 16 from 12-5 pm. Sponsors include Weas Development, Potawatomi Bingo and Casino, East Side BID#20, Canopies Events, Clark Graphics, WMSE 91.7 Frontier Radio, Riverwest Currents and VITAL Source.

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