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Low Budget Fundraiser for 200 people

  • g

In a month I'm chairing an alumni and friends fundraiser for a service corps called City Year. The alumni for this program are still quite young themselves, mostly in their mid-20s, so the cost of the event is only $25-30 dollars (and just $15 for current students). The event will run from 6:30-8:30 pm, and we are promising appetizers and drinks (not dinner). We are expecting about 200 people.

I think we're going to be able to get the drinks donated (or at least at cost), so now I'm hoping to come up with some interesting ideas for food. However, cheap is key. The goal is to spend less than $5 per person (and ideally about $4).

So one obvious approach is to "do it ourselves". And we will potentially have a number of folks available that day to do some preparation (as well as folk available the weekend before: the event is on a Thursday night). That said, these would be very unskilled volunteers, so it would have be very simple preparation.

Any ideas for a "menu" and where we should be buying? Are Costco and/or FreshDirect likely to be our best options?

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  1. Do some research: cruise some Happy Hours and check out the spreads! ;-)

    1. wow, $5 per person? that's going to be very difficult. i think costco will probably be your best bet and you'll definitely have to shop around to find the cheapest ingredients.

      1. wow, $5 per person? that's going to be very difficult. i think costco will probably be your best bet and you'll definitely have to shop around to find the cheapest ingredients.

        1. Trader Joe's has a lot of decent frozen appetizers, and they are generous in supporting community groups; ask for a donation...

          Link: http://www.bistrodraw.com

          1 Reply
          1. re: galleygirl

            Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, and many largish local markets/restaurants (Rainbow Grocery in SF, AG Ferrari, Chevy's) have programs set up to donate food to nonprofits.

            Your organization needs to have a 501C3 license, or you can get a sponsor to use their license and then donate food to you. I've had food at events catered by all the places I've mentioned, and they have a wonderful selection of everything you could ever want.

          2. Do you care at all what type of food you have? What sort of format do you envision? Indidivual things that can be picked up and carried off, or would things like dips and spreads be OK? What sort of expectation do you think people will have for food quality (quality not necessarily meaning fanciness)? Does all the food have to be prepared literally before it starts or will anyone be able to do on-going prep work.

            If your help is seriously unskilled, it's going to be tough coming up with any very interesting. If you have at least a few people with skills and the rest are willing to follow directions and stick to the more boring prep work, you have more options. Also, what sort of facilities and equipment will be available? Will people have to make things and bring them or will you have a central place where you'll have any sort of appliances (or where people can bring them)?

            If your organization has any kind of name recognition, it couldn't hurt to call around a little to any bigger, mass-market caterers like Fairway and Citarella's to see if they can do anything for you. If any of you organizers shop regularly at smaller places where they actually recognize you, you could try them too.

            1 Reply
            1. re: MikeG
              Gordon Strause

              Good questions. Here are my best answers at this point:

              - We're pretty open and flexible in terms of kinds of food. The folks attending, fortunately, will have low expectations in terms of quality (that hopefully we'll be able to exceed).
              - Having some food you can pick up and walk around with we'll be important, but we could certainly have some dips and spreads as well. Probably 50/50 would be good.
              - We will have the ability to keep preparing food once the event starts (plenty of volunteers and enough room), but I would prefer not to have (young, unskilled folk).
              - Facilities aren't great for preparation. Just one (normal size) sink. Any equipment would be brought by volunteers. That said, there is plenty of space, tables, and a fridge.
              - We're definitely looking into donations/discounts from local stores and restaurants.

            2. I've done lower budget than that (I think my last big party my budget was about $3 a person) and most of the corners I cut are by doing everything myself -- I am I guess skilled but unprofessional, so I think tips I could give are probably do-able by an unskilled group of volunteers.

              If you give me some idea of what kind of things you'd like to have served, I could work on coming up with specific recipes that are inexpensive... in general, really cheap stuff for appetizers are crudite (which can be beautiful if you buy brightly colored vegetables, and even the unskilled can chop them up) and nice bread. These things can be served with hummus and dips (and again, I can send you recipes that are easy so that you won't have to buy dips -- what a waste of budget!)

              Where are you located? That information would help the board figure out where you should buy your food.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Adrienne
                Gordon Strause

                In terms of ideas, I just have one thought at this stage:

                One of the central ideas City Year is about is diversity. So it would be great to have a number of different foods that represent different cultures.

                I'm not imagining that everyone will then get to try everything. But if we had around 8 items that up to 50 people could sample that would be ideal. And it would tie in nicely into City Year.

                As I think about it, that could also make it easy for us to come up with a special card that recognizes restaurants or stores that donated things (although that obviously is a subject for another board).

              2. What kind of things would you like to make? Exotic dips are really fun and easy for a crowd. Barefoot Contessa has a great ratatouille dip that you can serve with bread or pita chips. Her pan fried onion dip also rocks. The obvious hummus, baba ganouj etc work. If you want something a little more exotic, what i do is make mini pizzas using Costco gyro bread as the base and having several different toppings. I.e. Southwestern - chunks of grilled chicken breast tossed in BBQ sauce and sliced red peppers and chopped spring onions or Mediteranean - sliced olives, tomatoes and feta cheese. The key is to not make too many little things. Mini pizzas are good because you don't need too much toppings so it keeps costs down.

                1. g
                  Gordon Strause

                  Forgot that this board was for the whole country, and it might be helpful for folks to know where we are.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Gordon Strause

                    Oh, well that's good news. Now I can almost tell you *where* to go.

                    I liked the idea of Vietnamese hoagies -- also, you could serve Asian dumplings. If you go anywhere in Chinatown, you can get cheap, excellent Chinese dumplings.

                    I would highly recommend, as per your diversity request, that you visit Jackson Heights and/or Astoria to pick up food. Samosas, Greek Mezze (Hummus, Olives, Pita), and though it would take me a while to come up with an address (I moved out of New York in 1999) I'm pretty sure there is a Columbian area somewhere in Queens where you could easily buy (or send volunteers to buy) tapas items like small empanadas or arepas... and someone else could hit the lower east side for deli items like a platter of cold cuts or pickles or halva... I think you should give each volunteer one neighborhood to which to travel and a cuisine to acquire and a budget, and point them in the right direction and your banquet will cater itself.

                    If any of this is too off-the-beaten-path for you, let me know and I'll find out where specifically would be good and whether they deliver.

                    Good luck!

                  2. A few thoughts--
                    Contact a Vietnamese place and ask them about a bulk bahn mi (Vietnamese subs) purchase, with each bahn mi cut in half. Some of the bahn mi meat combos aren't too accessible to American palates, so ask them to stick to lemongras chicken or pork. I'm not sure what they run in NYC, but in the DC area, bahn mi are $2.50-$3.50 each, buy 5, get the 6th free.

                    Stuffed mushroom caps are easy to assemble in serious bulk.

                    All the suggestions for crudite are right on.

                    Try the largest middle-eastern bakery you can find. One of the ones in the DC area has a great selection of appetizer-sized meat and cheese pastries, all in the $0.50 to $1.25 each range. Chances are that they can work with you on a catering selection.

                    While you are there, look at their olives in bulk. You should be able to get a huge assortment at under $5/lb.

                    Unless they can offer you one heck of a deal, resist the temptation to buy your hummus pre-made. It is MUCH cheaper when made at home. All you need is a Cuisinart. (And chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, parsley. . .) If there is someone creative in your organization, you can set them loose with hummus ingredients and have them make several different variations. Do make it the day before, so the garlic can mellow.

                    1. Funny you should mention it's a City Year fundraiser, I just yesterday noticed that a chef who is doing great things here in Boston is a City Year alum. I have a ton of respect for the City Year program and the people who have been involved in it. How about using the City Year alumni network to find alums in the restaurant/grocery business to cut you some discounts, or even access to their wholesalers?

                      Otherwise you can get a lot of bang for your buck at Costco, both raw ingredients (e.g. crudite) and frozen apps.

                      1. There is one dish my girlfriend's mom makes that has to be pretty cheap...She basically makes a chicken pot pie without the crust - so just the insides - the chicken, gravy and vegatables and puts a scoop of this mixture in puff pastry cups. The cups are about $.50 each when bought in packages of 6 at a local grocer...if you watch the sales, you can find chicken breast for $2/pound, which is probably less than $.50 per person again for the recipe...and this is a nice hot 'entree' item. Side of caesar and you're set!

                        Good luck - let us know what you decide.


                        1. g
                          Gordon Strause

                          In case anyone is interested, here is what we ended up doing for the fundraiser. We ended up with a (somewhat eclectic) combination from three different sources:
                          - Pasta salads and cheese/fruit/veggie plates all prepared by an incredible volunteer (who got the fruit/veggies donated from a local market and bought everything else at Costco)
                          - Wonderful fried dumplings from "Fried Dumplings" in Chinatown (106 Mosco Street, near Pings). Delicious dumplings at absolutely unbeatable prices (5 for a $1). The place is insane. Combine it with a trip to Boston on the Chinatown buses ($15 each way), and you have the greatest food and travel deal in the history of mankind.
                          - Tacos and tamales from Eperanza del Barrio and their cooperative of Mexican Women Stret Vendors. More about them at the link below. Ask for Flor Bermudez if you want to contact them.

                          Link: http://www.esperanzadelbarrio.org/