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#BlueleafGiveBackWeek: "Brinner" blossoms into something special during 5th year

It all started with an in-flight magazine in the fall of 2014.

Katie Freeman, Bluetree’s Director of Training Solutions, was returning to Madison after a long week of travel and customer work.

Stepping off the plane at MSN, the air was chilly, the clock was nearing 11:00pm, and the leaves had started to surpass their colorful foray. But Katie knew she had a good idea brewing.

“I was reading a magazine that had a recipe for, essentially, a deconstructed Bloody Mary Salad,” she said. “I was like, ‘Hmm, that sounds like it could be really good…if you were doing breakfast for dinner.’ And then I thought, ‘Hmm, maybe I could do a breakfast for dinner type thing and I could ask people to donate to Second Harvest if they attend—I get to cook and help others by doing a fundraiser. Win-win!” 

The fundraiser Katie mentioned is the annual NBC15 Share Your Holidays campaign put on by the Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin. Bluetree has participated in each of its six years of existence, and it’s grown into something special in recent years in large part due to Katie’s persistence.

After connecting with co-founder Ted Gurman, Katie was set and had a plan. She’d do all the cooking, Bluetree would buy the food, admission would be 15 non-perishable food items or a monetary donation of the guests’ choice, and she would invite all 20 of her Bluetree colleagues at the time to One Barrel Brewing on Madison’s East Side for a meal. One Barrel would provide the space and the beverages, while Bluetree would provide the people and food.

100% of the proceeds went to the #SYH campaign, “Brinner” was born, and the rest is history. 

Four Brinners, 21,942 meal donations, and 200 new coworkers later, Bluetree’s Brinner event has grown so quickly that 2018 presented logistical challenges for the first time: the need for a bigger space and to close RSVPs early. 

NBC15's coverage of Brinner in 2017

Bluetree’s brand new 15,000 square foot office space on Madison’s Far West Side had the parking, but not the commercial kitchen.

Katie, a Verona, WI resident, had heard great things about the Badger Prairie Needs Network. After another quick phone call and a run through of their space with BPNN Executive Director Marcia Kasieta, Bluetree was set and its goal of raising more awareness about fighting hunger became even more attainable.

Katie hasn’t had to pull any strings at Bluetree, either. Blueleaves quickly jumped on the ability to RSVP before she opened registration to the rest of the public. Josh Filler and Alison Wood, two gourmand colleagues on the company's Advocacy team, jumped at the opportunity to chip in with the baking and cooking each of the past two years. Katie has also had a cadre of server volunteers year in and year out. In 2018, the event serves as the culmination of the company’s first annual #BlueleafGiveBackWeek.

Brinner has never been an obligation of either the annual NBC15 #SYH campaign or #BlueleafGiveBackWeek. It’s stemmed from Katie’s affinity for helping those in need. Raised in Pittsburgh, PA, Katie volunteered at the Greater Pittsburgh Community Foodbank in her twenties.

“I’ve always kind of been naturally attracted to making sure that folks have access to a good meal,” she said. “I hate the idea of having anybody have to choose between, ‘Do I take my kids to the doctor, or do I give them dinner? Do I get myself some medication that’s going to make me healthy and able to go to work and get a job? Or do I find myself breakfast?’

“I’ve been so fortunate that I’ve never had to make that choice. But I’ve seen thousands of people who do and it breaks my heart.”

Gurman’s lack of hesitation during Katie’s phone call five years ago is also reflective of the company’s broader mission: to make a real impact at scale in healthcare and beyond by helping people tackle their toughest challenges.

To Katie, Ted, Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin, and the rest of Bluetree, easy access to safe and healthy food thankfully remains—in their eyes—one of the toughest challenges out there.

Brinner isn’t going to be successful to Katie if guests only walk away satisfied with candied-bacon deviled eggs or Midwest-inspired caramelized apple tart tatin with brandy cream and bandaged cheddar. 

Awareness is what she’s going for.

Second Harvest employees are coming and speaking about hunger awareness, while Badger Prairie Needs Network is serving as the backdrop. Their mission is aptly put: “Fighting Poverty. Ending Hunger. Locally.”

And Katie, somehow squeezing it in between her cooking, cleaning, and setup duties Sunday night, will give her usual heartwarming speech as guests dig into the deliciousness.

*Spoiler alert!* 

It might go something like this:

“I think one of the great things about having the event at Badger Prairie Needs Network, is that it’ll open our eyes to some of the partners of Second Harvest and we’ll be able to educate the people who come to Brinner about hunger in their community, such that their contributions to fighting hunger aren’t just this one time a year,” Katie said. “That they’re now aware of it and will be able to look for other opportunities to fight hunger throughout the year. 

“So, if us holding Brinner there means that, out of 80 guests, a few people are inspired to go in and offer time at a food pantry or assist someone with shopping for groceries or repackaging food…then that’s amazing. That’s a few more volunteers who are now actively fighting hunger and helping others.”

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