Social work graduates often find themselves working among diverse elements of social justice: policy, child welfare, domestic violence, or the LGBTQ community. Denise Shipper, MSW ’78, has found her calling in food; that is, food philanthropy.
Shipper is the director of food and kitchen at One Table Café in Princeton, New Jersey, a community-supported restaurant that operates on the principle of “pay what you can.” The restaurant is housed in the Trinity Church of Princeton, and the Café provides a dinner on the third Friday of each month for all members of the community.
Food is donated by local restaurants and prepared on site by their chefs and /or staff along with a dedicated group of kitchen volunteers. In her role, Shipper develops relationships with restaurants, local food vendors, and catering companies. She also organizes and executes all food-related details for One Table’s dinners, including menu development, food procurement, supervision of kitchen staff and volunteers, monitoring of food safety, and working as part of the leadership team to develop and operate the restaurant.
The monthly dinner comprises a three-course meal sourced from as many local, organic growers and purveyors as possible. Funds raised above the cost of operations go to charitable organizations in the community selected by the donor restaurant. The goal of One Table Café has always been to develop it into a restaurant that can serve meals daily.
Shipper started her career at Staten Island’s New York Foundling Hospital in their crisis intervention center. She assessed and created long-term treatment plans for adolescents and their families referred by the court to this short-term residential treatment facility. Her second job took her across the country to California and the Santa Monica Hospital Women’s Crisis Center, where she offered crisis counseling and performed research on Los Angeles-area assault prosecutions for The Institute of Law and Social Research based in Washington, DC.
"My career evolved,” she said, explaining that her interest in sustainability—particularly as it related to food—began in college. “I took a number of biology classes at NYU as an undergraduate and read books like the Jungle and Silent Spring that inspired me to look at what we were eating, where it came from, and how it affected the environment as well as health.” She then met socially conscious chefs in California who were cooking from select local vendors and who respected all these issues.
By 2008, Shipper was back on the East Coast—in New Jersey—supporting and creating programs at organizations working to alleviate poverty, homelessness, and food insecurity. Motivated to assist people following the start of the Great Recession, she accepted an offer to examine the local charitable food support system in New Jersey’s Princeton and Mercer Counties. Families who had once been food bank donors were now seeking donations, adding a strain to the food bank’s already limited resources. A growing urgency had developed to address that invisible group of people who had fallen into need. It was through this experience that she was asked to help Trinity Church of Princeton develop the initiative that would become One Table Café.
Shipper has a certificate in green event management, kitchen safety management, plant-based nutrition, and studied at the Culinary Institute of America. In addition to her role at One Table Café, she is also the founder of Coordin.Ate Green, a green event management company.
Shipper believes that food security and food justice are critical social work issues. She said, "You can't do anything else if you are hungry. And the quality of what you are eating matters. There are people in our country right now working full time and food insecure. We need to do better.”
This work not only consists of providing high quality food for people, but making sure food is grown and produced in a manner that respects the environment, its resources, and the people who work in this arena. “That’s my definition of sustainability,” she said.
"My MSW and experience at NYU informed my entire world view and everything I do," she said. She has no doubt that her NYU Silver degree has aided her work in food philanthropy.
She encourages students interested in a career in Food Philanthropy to find opportunities volunteering with local food organizations, such as City Harvest. The Food Bank of New York City will be hosting its annual fundraising event together with the Food Network from October 17, 2013 - October 20, 2013, for which students can volunteer.
Students interested in volunteering for One Table Café can contact Denise Shipper at: email@example.com.