A Taste of Hampden returns

Last year's A Taste of Hampden, seen here, raised $9,000 for the Hampden Family Center. This year's goal is $10,000, organizers say. (File photo / October 23, 2012)

The Food Market has been well-received since the Hampden restaurant opened on The Avenue in June. Now, chef and co-owner Chad Gauss and his business partner, Elan Kotz, are giving back to the community, as one of 20 restaurants participating in A Taste of Hampden on Thursday, Oct. 25, a fundraiser for the Hampden Family Center.

"We completely believe in the neighborhood and the merchants and the growth of Hampden, so whatever we can do to help, we will," Kotz said.

And he noted that Gauss is a member of the Board of Directors of the Hampden Family Center, which provides a variety of services and programs for Hampden-area residents.

Kotz said The Food Market's participation in A Taste of Hampden is designed to reach out to needy residents, not to promote the restaurant.

"It's more about them than us," he said.

The Food Market will be serving its soft pretzels and, shrimp and grits during the event, from 6-9 p.m., at the family center, 1104 W. 36th St. Other participating restaurants include Alchemy, Asian Taste, Cafe Hon, Common Ground, Corner BYOB, Daniela's Pasta & Pastries, Frazier's on the Avenue, Golden West Cafe, Grandview Penthouse, Luigi's Italian Deli, Mamma's Cucina, Ma Petite Shoe, Roland Park Bakery & Deli, and The Dogwood.

Tickets are $30 per person and all proceeds will go the 17-year-old Hampden Family Center, which offers everything from after-school programs for area students to literacy classes for adults and emergency and benefits assistance programs.

The mission of the Hampden Family Center, as stated on its website, http://www.hampdenfamilycenter.org, is "to enrich the lives of residents through education and professional support, and to encourage individual growth and community fellowship.

The Hampden community, traditionally plagued by high dropout rates, looks to the family center to help tutor, mentor and provide after-school activities for children and youths, and to provide social services such as energy assistance to families and senior citizens. But the center hit bottom in 2010, losing out on several grants and issuing voluntary furloughs to its staff of four. But after closing for that summer, the center has rebounded and now is doing "very well," said Tom Finnerty, president of the Board of Directors.

"We've gone from surviving to thriving," Finnerty said.

Some of that success is due to annual fundraisers such as Hats Off to Hampden and A Taste of Hampden. The latter was shelved for several years when the center hit its rough patch. But A Taste of Hampden returned in 2010, raising $4,000, and last year raised $9,000.

"It's becoming more popular than ever," Finnerty said.

This year, the fundraising target is $10,000, said Lisa Ghinger, of Homeland, executive director of the center. She said 200 tickets were sold by Friday, compared to 93 by the final week before last year's event.

"All this participation from the community confirms our importance to the community," Ghinger said.

"It's not all about raising money," Finnerty said. "It's more about getting the community together."

And Ghinger thinks A Taste of Hampden is the perfect way to do that.

"It's just a very casual, fun event," she said. "There's nothing pretentious about it."

The center is located at 1104 West 36th St., Baltimore. For more information about A Taste of Hampden, call 410-467-8710