Polinating giving in Raleigh

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You might see the ladies – and gents – of the Beehive Collective buzzing around Raleigh. The fairly young group, made up primarily of women, gave away $25,000 in grants to two Raleigh-based charities this year. Catholic Charities and the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle were the recipients of the 2010 grant, which was voted on by the 43-member hive.

Catholic Charities will use its $10,000 grant to support its food panty, Catholic Parish Outreach, which feeds 7,500 Wake County residents each month, said Catholic Charities director Rick Miller-Haraway. The organization will use the award to hire a new program assistant that will help manage the daily operations of the pantry and start a program that helps residents apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

The Inter-Faith Food Shuttle has grown from reclaiming food from restaurants and grocery stores over 20 years ago to training residents how to grow, sell and preserve their own. The $15,000 grant that was awarded to the organization will be used to grow its Young Farmer training program. The program teaches Raleigh youth how to grow produce, raise livestock and farm management in hopes that they will be able to create their own livelihood from sustainable farming.

Cap: Queen Bees Gwen Hastings and Heather Yandow get dirty at the Beehive Collective Volunteer Day at Hilltop Farms in June. Photo courtesy Billie Karel.

Beehive co-founder Billie Karel explained that the Beehive Collective was inspired by the Vagina Monologues about three years ago. The play, which is part of a larger organization called V Day, raises money for local charities benefiting abused women. After a few years of producing the show and donating money to these local groups, Karel said a few of the organizers decided to expand on the concept.

“We should figure out a way to do this whenever we want, for whatever cause we want and bring in a lot more people,” she recalled.

Karel and her co-founders, Nicole and Les Stewart, Louisa Warren and Heather Yandow, based the organization model on that of a giving circle. Members donate a portion of their salary – half a percent to be exact – which affords them the power to vote on which charities will be the recipients of a grant. Karel said that this year the average member donation was $175.

“To think that $175 became a grant that in the end was $25,000, it’s tremendous,” said Melissa Edmonston, a member since 2009. “To feel like you’re a part of that, it’s nothing to sneeze at.”

Edmonston began going to Beehive-sponsored events in 2008, but became a member in 2009. Edmonston said she has always been unapologetically philanthropic and finds that many of the members have a shared interest in volunteerism and activism.

The collective also plans fundraising events throughout the year that brings more money into the pot, including movie and bowling nights, dancers and dinners, expert panel discussions and even a peanut butter and jelly sandwich eating contest. One of the more unique fundraising events was hosted by The Borough on West Morgan Street. After the state-wide smoking ban went into effect prohibiting smoking in bars and restaurants, the bar auctioned off its vintage ashtrays to its regulars. Karel said the event raised almost $2,000 with the most expensive ashtray going for $400.

Catholic Parish Outreach, a food pantry run by Catholic Charities, feeds 7,500 Wake County residents each month. The grant help pay for someone to organize its daily operations. Photo courtesy Catholic Charities.

“I think that the work of the Beehive Collective is inspiring,” said Miller-Haraway of Catholic Charities. “Their mission to involve young women in the work of philanthropy is not only bringing about wonderful results in our community now with the grants they are able to make, but will also make a big difference in the future as the women who are involved become more knowledgeable about community needs and more committed to finding resources to meet these needs.”

While Catholic Charities had a previous relationship with the Beehive Collective, this was the first time the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle was introduced to the organization.

The next generation of chefs learn how to prepare food at a cooking class sponsored by the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, one of the grant recipients for 2010. Photo courtesy Inter-Faith Food Shuttle.

“They weren’t high on our radar screen,” said Food Shuttle co-founder and director Jill Staton Bullard. Staton said the Food Shuttle would get emails from their partner organizations about the collective’s Request For Proposal (RFP). After doing some research, Staton Bullard said the group’s values complimented those of the Food Shuttle.

“They wanted to make their money speak and make a difference here, locally,” She said. “We think this is a local problem and a local issue. If we all work together we can solve it. It just seemed like a natural fit to me.”

Keeping the money local was one of the things that attracted new member Margaret Worthington to join the Beehive after returning to the Triangle from a five-year stint in California. It also offered social opportunities. “It was a nice way…to meet really active, engaged people in the community,” she said.

The process of choosing the recipients of the grants also gives members a chance to learn about organizations that they may not have had prior knowledge.

“If I’m giving a big chunk of money,” said Worthington. “I want to know that it’s going to an organization that has values that I agree with and that I know will be able to get the job done. It’s a good way to educate yourself more.”

Keeping the money local also allows the hive and its supporters to see the fruits of their labor. Last year the group awarded a $10,000 grant to the Raleigh Wake Partnership to End and Prevent Homelessness, which was then matched by three other organizations. Because of the initial award by the Beehive Collective, 35 Raleigh residents now have permanent homes.

While the Beehive Collective focuses on inspiring young Raleigh women to be leaders in their community, the organization boasts members who are young and old and of the male persuasion. This year, at more than 40 members, the hive hopes to increase their membership to 60 by the end of the year.

The next public Beehive-sponsored event will be Bowling with the Bees on February 22 at The Alley on Hillsborough Street.

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