Juice Ball fuels culinary academy


Café Stella owner and chef Tommy Fitzgerald grills four-cheese ravioli with a student at his nonprofit culinary academy, Kitchen Sage. Photo via fb.com

Don’t be surprised if you see a slew of superheroes in downtown Grand Rapids on Saturday.

For the fifth year in a row, Café Stella owner and chef Tommy Fitzgerald is holding his annual Juice Ball, a fundraiser to help raise money to fight childhood hunger in the community — and the theme for this year’s event is Comic Con.

Attendees are encouraged to dress up as their favorite comic book or cartoon character.

Juice Ball will be held at JW Marriott from 7 p.m. to midnight.

The event will feature entertainment by Troll for Trout, DJ Casey Cochran and DJ Slim Tim.

New charity

This is a bit of a transition year for Juice Ball.

In the past, the fundraiser, which is also Fitzgerald’s birthday party, had always supported Kids’ Food Basket as its main charity, but this year, the money raised will primarily be going to Fitzgerald’s newly launched nonprofit, Kitchen Sage.

The money raised during this year’s Juice Ball will go towards refurbishing the kitchen in the Steepletown complex on the west side, which will soon house the after school Kitchen Sage program.

Fitzgerald noted that Kids’ Food Basket will still receive a donation from the event, and he intends to continue to be a supporter and donor to the organization in the future.

“Funds are still going to Kids’ Food Basket for sure, but we are promoting Kitchen Sage as well,” Fitzgerald said. “Both will be part of Juice Ball now.”

Fitzgerald said that Juice Ball’s success as a fundraiser and the relationships he’s built with Kids’ Food Basket leaders Mary K. Hoodhood, founder, and Bridget Clark Whitney, executive director, are what helped him have the confidence to launch Kitchen Sage.

“Juice Ball has given me the opportunity to know that I have the support to do what I want to do now,” Fitzgerald said. “If it wasn’t for Juice Ball, I wouldn’t have the gumption to know I can do this — we can make this happen.

“Mary K. and Bridget are mentoring me to do my own thing and kind of giving me the ins and outs. So I’ve gone from donor to protégé. That is the cool story of it. . . . This is definitely the story of Grand Rapids and how people inspire other people to do what’s needed in the community.”

Kitchen Sage

Kitchen Sage is a culinary leadership academy that includes resources, activities and educational opportunities for students age 12-20.

“It has nothing to do with creating an army of chefs,” Fitzgerald noted. “Its about telling kids, ‘Look, you just have to work every day. You have to work real hard, and you have to contribute to your community if you truly want to be happy.’”

To get that message across, the after-school program involves having enrolled students cook for themselves and others in their community.

In the process, the students are able to discover their specific talents and begin to dream about their own possibilities.

“Who would have thought that you could learn some math, some science, some chemistry and some communication, some marketable skills all in a pot of marinara sauce?” Fitzgerald said.


Tickets are $30 in advance and $40 at the door. $75 VIP tickets are also available.

Tickets can be purchased online.

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