Cookin’ Up Great Community Relations

For a while—a few decades ago—local organizations, including schools, created and sold cookbooks with recipes from their community. I had a number of them, including the popular “Friends Come in All Flavors” from a school my children didn't even attend: Buckingham Friends. They sat on my bookshelf with their (now charming) plastic spiral bindings and one-color, photo-less, typewritten layouts. Whenever I bought one, I felt like I was getting a fun, useful product while supporting a worthy organization.

Though the primary purpose was to raise money, the "sides" were to bring attention to the school and to build community. On the booklets' opening pages, there was usually a brief school description and statement of mission. Every time cooks opened the book, they would be reminded of the institution and perhaps of teachers or parents they knew. Assuming the recipes were appealing and the directions accurate, cookbooks would result not only in tasty dishes but also in goodwill toward the school. A community—of those who shared their recipes, those who compiled them, and those who used them—would be built. And unlike other fundraisers, school cookbooks could remain on shelves for years—in my case over 20, until I realized I wasn't opening my once-much-used copy anymore and parted with it during a major purge.

I recently discussed the subject with a friend, who said, “I like the idea of community building with a cookbook, but I think cookbooks may be a thing of the past for this generation of parents. They just look recipes up online.” Perhaps she’s right, but it gives schools a different opportunity.

For the last three years, Peddie School has emailed its community, including alumni, a small cookbook before Thanksgiving.  Not a direct fundraiser in the mold of its hard-copy ancestors, it is still a great community- and goodwill-builder. In addition to recipes appropriate to the season, it folds in quotes from the well-known faculty and staff submitters, who tie the dishes to something meaningful about the school experience.  Additional marketing messaging (Peddie's Recipe for Success) is blended in. Short and sweet, the cookbook whets readers' appetites and stirs up the good feelings that lead to giving.Certainly, this isn't a recipe that all schools should follow, but it shows how an old idea can be made current while preserving what's best of the original. People will always have a fondness for food, just as they should for their school. Like any good recipe that's adapted to suit varied palates, you should choose the ingredients right for your community.

Bon appétit!