The culinary community + charitable action have always been intimately tied together for Michigan-native Charlotte Park. As the founder of a local influencer group, TastemakersCHS, and the driving force behind Crumb4Charleston, she knows first-hand the impact food can have on the world. We chatted with Charlotte to find out how she got inspired to use food as a catalyst for change and why it’s important to use your platform for good in the latest addition of Lowcountry Limelight.
How did you get your start as a food blogger/influencer?
I have always been obsessed with all things culinary: exploring new restaurants, browsing food blogs, binge watching Anthony Bourdain and cooking/baking for my friends and family. At my college in Michigan I started a “College Chef” column at our newspaper to showcase simple and affordable recipes that college kids could master. From there I created my blog Saltandpreppy.com to document all my favorite recipes so they would be easily sharable with others. Upon moving to Charleston I continued my love for cooking and baking and also found exploring new restaurants to be my favorite way to spend time with people. I was quickly introduced to the world of food instagrammers through my PR work for various restaurants at my company Lou Hammond Group. We would often host dinners and special events inviting the same influencers to experience and I quickly became friends with many of them.
You are the creative force behind Tastemakers Charleston, a monthly meetup of local influencers. Where did you get the idea to bring everyone together?
It’s no secret that Charleston is a foodie town through and through. There is a large number of wonderful people in this city that have found a passion in documenting their culinary adventures in the city through their Instagram handles. I was running into the same people time and time again at our restaurant PR events and thought it would be beneficial for everyone- both the influencers and the restaurants- to create a group to streamline the invitation process along with the tracking of social media coverage. The idea of TastemakersCHS was to create a community of people who share the same passion while expanding our reach and influence. We began with seven members in 2016 and have quickly grown to over 25 members, with a combined reach of over half a million followers on Instagram. I’m excited to be using our group’s social media reach to raise money and awareness for local non-profits through our new TastemakersCHS charity partnership program which launched a few months ago!
Why do you think it’s important for influencers to collaborate and support one another?
In a community as tight knit as Charleston, it only makes sense for influencers to support and engage each other. Since joining TastemakersCHS, many members have found ways to partner together on specific projects, brand initiatives and other creative collaborations outside of our bi-weekly events. While the majority of members manage their Instagram on the side for a fun hobby, some with a larger reach are finding ways to turn their passion into their career- especially as the power of social media in the restaurant world continues to grow. It has been amazing to see so many members develop strong bonds with one another and become friends through TasteMakers.
In addition to Tastemakers, you also founded Crumbs4Charleston, a nonprofit supporting local culinary initiatives. Tell us a little more about Crumbs and its mission.
My love for cooking growing up quickly changed to a love for baking upon my moving to Charleston, since baked goods were something I could easily bring to friends and coworkers to brighten their day. Experimenting with new recipes became my way to de-stress and unwind after work, and I found myself bringing sweets into work a few times a week. Seeing how stocked with sugar our work kitchen was getting, I knew I wanted to do something more with my passion for baking other than bring in sweets to my awesome coworkers.I began Crumbs4Charleston with the desire to align my love for baking with my love for God by offering friends the chance to purchase sweets & give back to awesome charities in Charleston making a true impact. I offer three different baked goods every two months (everything from brownies and cookies to brittles and fudge) for purchase on my website www.crumbs4charleston.com and donate 100% of the proceeds, minus the cost of ingredients, to a different Charleston charity. I try and offer unique baked goods (like Thin Mint Donut, Cookie Dough Stuffed Cupcakes and Candy Cane Fudge) that people can’t normally find in stores. I do all my baking on Saturdays and hand deliver to customer’s doors on Sundays. I aim to not only donate to different Charleston charities, but help raise awareness of all that they do through Crumbs4Charleston promotion on social media.
What kind of charities have you worked with and why did you choose to focus on culinary-focused organizations?
I have worked with over 12 non-profits in the city thus far and while many aim to combat hunger in some way (such as Fields to Families, Fresh Future Farm and East Cooper Meals on Wheels), others focus on other causes ranging from addiction recovery to human trafficking prevention to sea turtle rescue. There are endless non-profits in the city doing incredible work to help bring light to darkness and I feel extremely grateful top play a very small part in their individual missions. I recognize how lucky I am to live a life free of hunger, poverty and need and feel a deep call to assist in helping my neighbors who are struggling.
If someone wants to support Crumbs, how can they donate?
People can view this month’s bake goods and place orders on Crumbs4Charleston.com. I am currently offering Bacon Almond Brittle, Candy Cane Fudge and Peppermint Bark for December, with all proceeds going to Fresh Future Farm to help provide healthy and affordable produce to low-income families in North Charleston!
What’s next for you, Tastemakers and Crumbs?
(You’re one busy woman!)
I’m super pumped for all that is on the horizon for TastemakersCHS and Crumbs4Charleton in 2019! As far as TastemakersCHS, I’m excited to continue to grow and develop our charity partnership program. As a part of partnering with TastemakersCHS, we connect the restaurants to our charity partners and develop specific dish or drink donation for the month, encouraging Charleston diners to eat out for a good cause. Our end goal with our TastemakersCHS charity partnership program is to give as many Charleston non-profits as possible the added exposure and awarness they deserve, while raising funds at the same time. As far as Crumbs4Charleston, I hope to continue to grow my charity network and customer base. I have plans to partner with a few local coffee shops in the new year to sell my treats and in turn increase the money I am able to raise for each non-profit partner.
Images courtesy of: Callie Cranford, Mac Kilduff and Zheng Chia