Every two years, the Greenville Follies holds a huge stage production to help raise funds for a local community nonprofit.
While the group has donated thousands of dollars to community service groups with its shows, the 2015 Follies production looks to benefit what will possibly be one of the most impactful community service projects the group has helped fund since its inception: a fully-operational commercial kitchen serving residents from several counties across North Texas.
After hearing presentations from three different nonprofits at a recent board meeting, the Follies decided to partner with Community Seeds to help fund its “incubator kitchen,” which it hopes will incubate business for food entrepreneurs not only in Hunt County, but other communities in the North Texas region.
The kitchen will be located off of U.S. Highway 69 in Lone Oak, and will also feature a store in the front of the building where people can sell the food products they make within the kitchen.
“We’re hoping it will generate a lot of traffic, especially on the weekends when people drive through Lone Oak to go to Canton,” Greenville Follies Board President Mandy Stewart said.
Community Seeds, a 501(c)(3) organization based in Lone Oak, offers programs addressing the multiple factors affecting low income, working poor and underserved families, helping them to live more stable, secure and prosperous lives.
According to Stewart, the project is something totally different from any the group has helped to fund before, mainly due to the fact that the commercial kitchen will be located outside of Greenville.
“This will give us the chance to reach outside of the Greenville community,” Stewart said. “Community Seeds serves a large number of Greenville residents, so it’s a win-win situation.”
Stewart said on average the Greenville Follies has been able to donate around $50,000 from each production to nonprofit organizations within the community.
The kitchen will offer classes and training for residents wishing to learn the culinary arts, and will serve as a place for residents to make canned and packaged food products without having to worry about meeting certain health standards and food regulations.
“This will actually be a commercial kitchen, meeting all the standards of local health authorities, so that people can produce whatever kind of product that they are interested in selling,” said Mary Sue Cole, an Extension agent for the Texas AgriLife Extension Service of Hunt County. The project has been in the works for nearly 10 years, and has attracted the interest of multiple groups, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which funded a $99,000 grant for the cause.
Even with that grant, Cole said she knew they would need more money in order to get the kitchen up and running, and she was very grateful for the Follies’ generous offer to donate.
“Getting the Follies grant was a wonderful thing,” Cole said. “Not only will their support go toward benefiting the whole county, but it will give us more visibility and the opportunity to market the idea to the community.”
Shannon Foltz, a member of Community Seeds and owner of the future Just Pie shop in Greenville, said the kitchen will help generate income for those trying to make food products at home, as well as providing guidance on the ins and outs of the food industry.
“It’s amazing what you can do in a kitchen,” Foltz said. “A kitchen is the heart of every home, and so for us this project will be the heart of Hunt County.”
Foltz, who helped design the layout of the kitchen, said it will be large enough to accommodate multiple stations for people to work on making their food products while also leaving enough space for the packaging and production processes.
Foltz added that with the commercial kitchen would come “endless possibilities” of ways to serve communities in the region, including the idea that the kitchen could be used to provide food during disasters or other types of emergency situations.
Community Seeds will also tag some of the more popular products with the Follies logo, and a percentage of the sales of those products will go toward a Greenville Follies scholarship fund for students wishing to pursue careers in culinary, theater and other types of arts.
“That was very exciting for the Follies because no one has ever offered them that before,” Foltz said.
The kitchen will be the first USDA-funded commercial kitchen in Texas.
The Greenville Follies held its first fundraising production in 1987, and has since helped raise well over $600,000 for local nonprofits.
Last year’s production benefited the Boys and Girls Club of Northeast Texas to build an outdoor learning center at the Reecy Davis Center on Lee Street.
Its next production will be directed by Jaime Donegan, and feature comedy, dancing, singing and a few other special acts.
For more info about the Follies, visit its website at greenvillefollies.com.
Those wishing to make a donation to Community Seeds for its commercial kitchen project can visit its website at cseeds.org.