Small bites: A Persian feast to help kids in need

BRINGING JOY: Jennifer MacDonald visits a makeshift school for Syrian refugees in the town of Urfa in southern Turkey during a research trip to learn how Hadaya could help. "We try to provide things that are team-oriented and nonbreakable that are simple and easy to share," says MacDonald. Photo courtesy of Hadaya Toys

In October 2014, Jennifer MacDonald created Hadaya Toys, a grassroots organization based in Asheville that provides toys, books and art supplies to displaced refugees worldwide. MacDonald, who teaches Arabic at Christ School, got the idea after a series of summers spent traveling in the Middle East.

“A couple of years ago I decided to explore the borders of Syria, where many of the millions of refugees had fled the Syrian war,” says MacDonald. While visiting she interviewed, photographed and filmed the experience in an effort to create a traveling exhibit. “I wanted to educate not only my students, but the general public on the Syrian refugee crisis.”

It was through this project that her organization found its start. “As a teacher and a mother, it really broke my heart to see kids not have any opportunity, not only to go further in life through education, but just to be a child through basic play.”

Since the organization’s inception, MacDonald has raised thousands of dollars in donations and delivered soccer balls, jump ropes, kites and the like to groups of refugees in the Beqaa Valley of Lebanon and southern Turkey. She also built a library in a remote village in Nepal for 700 children following the April 2015 earthquake.

The organization, which is run by MacDonald and Vanessa Bell, is currently raising money for a project that focuses on rebuilding a community center for the people of the Dharavi area in Mumbai, India. To help raise funds, Hadaya Toys has teamed up with local restaurants Chai Pani and Gypsy Queen Cuisine and cocktail bar MG Road to host a Persian feast on Wednesday, June 29.

“We’re always looking for ways to give to charities,” says Michael Files, brand director for Chai Pani Restaurant Group. “In this case, it’s really nice, because there are a lot of international charities, and people want to help people worldwide, but this is somebody we actually know.”

Chefs Meherwan Irani, Suzy Phillips and James Grogan will prepare the meal, which will feature Persian biryani with cashews, raisins and saffron; kashk bademjan (a grilled eggplant stew with cloves), Lebanese cheese and pine nuts and lamb koftas with pistachios and mint. “We’re so grateful that they’re doing it,” MacDonald says. “This organization is small enough [that] we really depend on partners and community support. This is a perfect example of what that is.”

The Hadaya Benefit Dinner takes place Wednesday, June 29, at MG Road Lounge, 19 Wall St. Cocktail hour begins at 6 p.m. Dinner is served at 7 p.m. Tickets are $50. All proceeds benefit Hadaya Toys. For details and tickets, visit

Coffee for Champions

“We thought of coffee because, as organizers for Special Olympics, we tend to work some odd hours,” says Buncombe County Special Olympics coordinator Josh O’Conner. On June 6, the Buncombe County Special Olympics, which provides year-round sports training and athletic competitions for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, launched its latest initiative, Coffee for Champions. The volunteer-driven, donation-funded program aims to partner with coffee shops throughout Asheville and Buncombe County to help raise funds for and greater awareness of the organization. Organizers ask that each participating shop to donate one penny from each cup of coffee sold during August to the program. “These athletes work incredibly hard, and we’re all about making sure the community knows about it,” says O’Conner.

The fundraiser happens throughout August at participating businesses. To join the project, contact Buncombe County Special Olympics at or 250-4265. For details, look for Coffee for Champions on Facebook. 

Corner Kitchen’s summer menu

Biltmore Village eatery Corner Kitchen has added some new items as it rolls out its summer menu. Pork belly bahn mi, cornmeal-fried Smiling Hara tempeh, a naan burger made with Gypsy Queen Cuisine falafel and a chumichurri flatiron steak are among the recent additions. There are also two new vegetarian entrée sandwiches and a small-plate offering that will be a part of the chef’s daily creations. “We love our all-time favorites, but we felt a need to try some new things that would reflect the warmer weather and some of our creative urges,” says chef Josh Weeks in a media release.

Corner Kitchen is at 3 Boston Way in Biltmore Village. It’s open 7:30-11 a.m. Monday-Friday  for breakfast and 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. for lunch. Dinner begins every night at 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday brunch runs 9 a.m.-3 p.m. For details, visit

1LUV Food & Music Festival

The four-day 1LUV Food & Music Festival in Fletcher will feature 25 local food trucks and beer along with 35 music acts, rides and games the last weekend of June. Food offerings will run the gamut from gourmet tacos and sliders from Chef Daddy’s, to artisan bagels from Home Free Bagels to pulled pork from Choo Choo Barbeque. Performers will include Caleb Johnson, Joe Lasher Jr., Lyric and Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band, among many others. The festival benefits nonprofit organizations Homeward Bound, Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministries and Brother Wolf Animal Rescue.

1LUV Food & Music runs Thursday-Sunday, June 23-26 at the Western North Carolina Agriculture Center Fairgrounds, 1301 Fanning Bridge Road, Fletcher. General admission is $10 in advance, $12 at the gate. Tickets for seniors and veterans are $9 (at gate only). Admission for kids ages 6 and younger is free. For details,


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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. His writing has appeared in Gulf Coast, the Miracle Monocle, Juked and elsewhere. His debut novel, The Wind Under the Door, is now available.

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