By TONI SUTTON-DEANGELICO | La Mesa Courier
What started as an informational meeting amongst seven La Mesa ceramic artists looking to share studio space, quickly turned into an outlet to raise money for a worthy cause. At that meeting, the artists learned they had much more in common than just artistry. They all shared the same passion — serving their community. They decided they would collectively use their art to help refugee families, and that is when “Cups For A Cause” was born.
Cups For A Cause is a showcase where original works of art are created to benefit San Diego nonprofit organizations. San Diego Rapid Response Network (SDRRN) is the first organization the collective artists chose to highlight.
Michele Palmer, one of the artists, said that she and the rest of the team, who have been sharing a pottery studio space in the commercial district of La Mesa for a few years, wanted to come together and do some good. So, they began putting together a list of organizations that they cared about and knew that asylum-seekers and the immigration crisis are top priorities.
From there, the artists started putting out the word to all of their friends who were affiliated with different organizations to see what they could do and what group they should get in touch with. At first, they thought about giving to one refugee family that was in need. As it turned out, they learned it was easier to support an organization that had their hands on many different facets in helping those families in need.
“A group of our friends suggested that we contact the San Diego Rapid Response Network, and when we found out that they were affiliated with Jewish Family Service, it just made sense,” Palmer said. “Once I spoke with them, I was hooked. I had no idea how hands-on they were, which I was quite impressed with. They were thrilled to talk to us and told us once the fundraiser is over, we could come to take a tour to see exactly where our money was going. They were so receptive to us working with them, and that made this organization really stand out to all of us, and here we are.”
The group then reached out to Jewish Family Service (JFS), to develop a framework for the event. Jewish Family Service is the founding organization of the SDRRN. It is a client-centered and impact-driven organization that works very hard to build a healthier, stronger, and more resilient San Diego. The nonprofit human service agency was founded in 1918 and since has become one of the most impactful nonprofits in the region.
Every year, JFS aids in making a difference in the lives of over 32,000 people. In late October 2018, JFS started a migrant shelter to provide meals and medical care as well as legal services and travel aide to approximately 200 individuals, including nearly 50-60 families a day. Funds are needed to maintain the daily operation of the shelter and to provide asylum-seekers everyday basic necessities such as food, blankets, portable showers, bedding baby/children needs, and toiletries. Funding also helps SDRRN offer free legal representation for the families and fund bond fees.
Palmer said they decided as a group to sell cups and mugs because they knew that they were something that people would use right away, and since they’re small, the price point would be good. At first, they wanted to have a party at one of their houses to sell the cups. People would come and buy a cup or mug and then fill them up with their favorite beverages. However, they realized they did not have ample space to reach out to the community as they wanted. So, they decided to contact Helix Brewery at 8101 Commercial St., located in the industrial section of La Mesa, which is coincidently right down the street from their art space.
Palmer, who is also a musician, has performed at and attended events at the brewery and found it fitting for their special event. On July 7, the artists held their fundraiser Cups For A Cause from noon to 5 p.m. in the garden area of the brewery. Handcrafted cups and mugs were the focus amongst other beautiful creations that consisted of bowls, sculptures, and jewelry, to name a few.
Residents from La Mesa and the surrounding areas came out to support the group as well as the cause. Eager to shop, quite a few guests showed up even before the start time of the fundraiser. Mugs were being bought left and right. There were many to choose from, and many patrons walked out with quite a few cups.
Lara Dickens and Irene Prudent, locals from La Mesa, said they wanted to support immigrants stuck at the border, but it’s hard when you don’t know how to help.
“We thought it was great that the group had stepped up in taking the initiative to raise money and we knew we wanted to get involved so here we are,” Dickens said after finding out about the event.
Michelle Palmer and the other artists hope that people will find out more about both JFS and SDRRN.
“There are a lot of things people can do, even if it’s giving money,” she said. “These families need our help, and we want the community to know that when they feel frustrated, there are helpers out there.”
The artists donated all the proceeds from their sales of original handcrafted cups and mugs to the nonprofit to assist migrants and asylum-seeking families. Ten percent of the pottery sales that were not mug sales went directly to SDRRN. The event raised a total of $2,502.
“The event far outpaced anything we’d expected. From the amount of people there to the amount of money raised, to the feedback we received — it was thrilling and humbling. And it was yet another reminder of how generous people can be and that there are always ways to serve others,” Palmer said.
Going forward, the Cups For A Cause artists hope to host similar events twice per year or more, and can’t wait to do more outreach into the community and help other organizations that are in need.
—Toni Sutton-Deangelico is a freelance writer living in San Diego.