how do you turn $100 into $800?

So did we really raise $800 for charity? Yep. Did it really only cost $100? Pretty much.

After each meal, I’ll be providing a shopping list of the ingredients purchased. I want to be completely transparent about the actual costs of throwing the dinner because (1) it will make me shop and plan more judiciously, and (2) I want to show others how little money it takes to actually create the multiplier effect for charitable donations.

So for this first dinner, which one of the participants so aptly deemed our “soft opening,” here’s our shopping list. To control costs, I purchased items from Safeway, Trader Joe’s, Uwajimaya, and a few of my favorite wine stores… eventually, I want to incorporate products from local producers and farmers’ markets… but that will definitely introduce a new element of expense that will need to be planned around.


So for now, please excuse the large chain supermarket sources:

1 medium sized red beet – $1
1 dozen eggs – $2 ($3 for a dozen, but only 8 used)
goat cheese – $1 ($4 for the portion, only 1/4 used)
can of chickpeas – $1
4 sirloin filets (2 lbs.) – $10 (on sale)
4 large russet potatoes – $4
1/2 cauliflower – $2
bosc pears – free (from the garden)
tart ingredients (flour, butter, sugar, almonds) – $4

Trader Joe’s
2 bags frisee – $4
seeded baguette – $2

filet of alaskan black cod – $7

cocktail ingredients – $7 (best estimate of costs for mixers and alcohol we already had)
2007 joseph drouhin saint-veran – $15 (Pike & Western)
2006 j vineyard, pinot gris – $14 (Esquin Wine Merchants)
2006 dubois beaune 1er cru “bressandes” cuvée unique – $32 (North Berkeley Imports)

Total cost: $106 (food-$38; beverage total-$68)

Ok, but wait a second… there were only eight diners, each of whom contributed $50 to the University District Food Bank. That’s only $400. Where’s did the other $400 come from?

Corporate matching of charitable contributions. Each of the households who attended the meal had at least one person working for a company that matches their contributions to qualifying nonprofits.

No doubt about it… corporate matching had a huge impact here, giving us nearly an 8:1 ratio of charitable impact to cost. But even if we had thrown this meal without the matching component, we would have ended up with a pretty respectable 4:1 ratio. So those are my targets for now… 8:1 if we can get corporate matching, 4:1 if we can’t.

Some other things I learned from this first meal:

  • It would be great to invite a representative from the charity being benefitted to join the meal.  This would give an opportunity to hear directly from the people who’ll be putting the money to good use and create a deeper connection between the participants and the cause.
  • A cocktail and three bottles of wine might be too much alcohol for eight people.  Nearly an entire bottle’s worth of wine was left over, which was not an efficient way to spend money… although there was hardly a drip left of the ridiculously amazing burgundy.
  • The meal worked because people felt free to completely enjoy themselves and be served.  If you want to give people a comfortable dining experience, it takes a lot of attention on the timing of the meal and the prep work that takes place both before and during the event.  Not so say that you shouldn’t interact with folks… but alleviating the expectation that we would be eating with the group freed us to focus on the service.
  • Trader Joe’s bread… not a fan. Next time, Columbia City Bakery filone, hands down.


I’m trying to figure out the frequency with which we’ll do these meals, but it looks like there might already be another one in the works for the end of this month.  My hope is also to reach out to some local bloggers and have them either participate in hosting a meal or being one of the diners. 

And maybe… just maybe, what we’re able to show here will also make some of the readers of this blog feel like throwing their own charitable meal.  If you think you might be interested, just leave a comment!  I’d be more than happy to share any tips while you brainstorm what your event will look like.  And if you are able to host a meal, send me an email with the menu, some pictures, and some thoughts about the charitable effort your meal supported, and we’ll throw it up on the blog. 

You can reach me at


~ by jak on November 11, 2008.

5 Responses to “how do you turn $100 into $800?”

  1. this is a great idea and the first dinner was a wonderful success. one reason that i think this idea has such potential is because it raises funds for charity that do not necessarily come out of your charity budget. I have a budget that i adhere to when contributing to deserving charities each year. however, because this involved a meal, i was still able to keep my charity budget intact and pull this money from my “dining/entertainment” budget. ultimately, these events will allow me to give more each year to worthy causes, without impacting those contributions that I already make to other charitable organizations. plus–the food was amazing…

  2. Megan–
    Thanks for posting your thoughts. I’m SO GLAD to hear your perspective, because what you expressed is exactly what we were hoping to create. We were so happy to have you join us, even if you had to take the dessert course to go… 🙂

  3. Megan, I don’t know you, but you made a great point about the different budgets. Now if you charged $70 for two people, we would always sign up for these dinners bc that’s how much we usually spend on eating out.

  4. Well done. It is important to show that it can be done

  5. Come on, Jak! The least you can do for your nice guests that are generously giving up their hard earned money for charity is to buy them some nice food.

    I get it, I get it. No hate mail necessary. Just playing devil’s maitre d’

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