This article was originally written by Ilene Angel and published by the Huffington Post. To see photos from the event click here and to read the official 2017 WhyHunger Chapin Awards press release click here.
Tuesday night, WhyHunger hosted its annual Chapin Awards dinner at the Edison Ballroom in New York City.
This year’s honorees included Jon Batiste, musical director and bandleader for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, as well as WhyHunger’s grassroots partner, Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger.
Founded in 1975 by the late singer/songwriter Harry Chapin and his friend, radio DJ Bill Ayres, WhyHunger, now in its 42nd year, was created to end hunger by addressing the root causes of social injustice and poverty that perpetuate it and by creating community access to affordable, nutritious food.
Never has there been a time since the organization’s inception, when there was more need for that than now - a sentiment that was both palpable in the crowded ballroom and also noted by Pete Dominick, the talented and funny host for the evening.
The first award recipient, Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger, provided a staggering 3 million meals to New Yorkers last year alone. And its awe-inspiring founder, Dr. Melony Samuels, described how the grass roots organization went from a traditional food pantry to that, plus a mobile pantry, plus two urban farms, feeding 30,000 low income people each month.
Had there not been accompanying video, I myself would have been hard pressed to believe a thriving farm in the middle of such an urban setting. It was an inspiring testament to what is possible when committed people join together for the greater good of each other.
Jon Batiste, this year’s ASCAP Harry Chapin Award recipient, brought his band, Stay Human, with him and was introduced and joined by The Roots Questlove.
In his moving speech that preceded the music, Batiste said, “Music at its highest is of service.”
And Batiste means what he says, because earlier in the evening, he decided on the spot to auction off a private piano lesson to the highest bidder to raise money for the organization.
Then Batiste and his band, Stay Human, proceeded to “serve us” their beautiful blend of spirited song and instrumental music, venturing out into the ballroom and engaging everyone in song and dance.
The evening was capped off by the tradition of closing with members of the Chapin family and the award recipients leading everyone in attendance in a singalong of the late Harry Chapin’s “Circle” song.
As everyone departed in good spirits, it seemed to me that for all the challenges that this new America we are living in present to us, it also presents us with the opportunity to make a differences in unprecedented ways, as these award recipients did.
This unique time we are living in provides us with an opportunity to be part of the solution, to, once and for all change things systemically, and to be in community with one another while doing so.
WhyHunger Chapin Awards, from left: Brian McMorrow, WhyHunger Board Chair; Loretta Muñoz, ASCAP Assistant Vice President; Bill Ayres, WhyHunger Ambassador (WhyHunger Lifetime Achievement Award); Grace Potter, musician (ASCAP Harry Chapin Vanguard Award); Felix Cavliere, musician (ASAP Harry Chapin Legacy Award); Noreen Springstead, WhyHunger Executive Director; Seth Saltzman, ASCAP Senior Vice President. Image Credit: Diane Bondareff for WhyHunger
All good stories should begin with a dramatic scene, so it was fitting that guests of this year’s WhyHunger Chapin Awards Gala arrived at The Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers on June 23rd amidst peals of thunder and lightning. The stage was perfectly set for a night of singing, celebration and activism – and as the skies cleared, and the sun sank over the Hudson River, the storytelling began.
This year’s gala was a particularly significant one in WhyHunger’s history. While presenting ASCAP Harry Chapin Awards to musician activists Grace Potter (Vanguard Award) and Felix Cavaliere (Legacy Award), WhyHunger was also commemorating its own 40th anniversary.
WhyHunger Co-founder and Ambassador Bill Ayres, who passed his long-standing title of Executive Director on to Noreen Springstead in January, received the WhyHunger Lifetime Achievement Award recognizing his 40 years of leadership, activism and service. The award was presented by Springstead, Ayres’s wife Jeannine and their friend Sandy Chapin. Springstead, in her introduction, described Ayres as “a great humanitarian.” Her tribute was echoed in messages of support for Ayres from longtime WhyHunger partners Bruce Springsteen and Senator Patrick Leahy, and in a letter of recognition from President Obama.
While laughingly introducing himself as “Ambassador Bill,” and expressing pride in WhyHunger as an organization in which “what we do is not simply feed people, but rather, create situations in which people can feed themselves,” Ayres emphasized that “we have a long way to go” – and that he is certainly not retiring from the movement. Springstead, who Ayres described as “exactly the right person” to lead WhyHunger, shared his conviction, stating, “We cannot substitute charity, or volunteerism for strong food policy, a living wage, and the right to good food.” She ended her speech with a vow to strengthen WhyHunger’s fight against hunger with “a framework rooted in justice.”
Speeches by board members Jen Chapin, Seth Saltzman (Senior Vice President of ASCAP) and Loretta Muñoz (Assistant Vice President of ASCAP) echoed the organization’s commitment to movement building and reaffirmed its work to ensure nourishing food is a human right for all.
40 years on display: Tom Chapin and Bill Ayres celebrate WhyHunger's History. Image Credit: Diane Bondareff for WhyHunger
WhyHunger’s story, as told on Tuesday night with an exhibit that invited guests to engage in its history and future, is one of continued growth and dedication to the mission. As Alison Cohen, WhyHunger’s Senior Director of Programs, explained, “This is a critical transitional moment in the life of WhyHunger, as Bill has moved into a different role and Noreen has taken on the leadership with a strong theory of change and a crystalized programmatic focus. Now, more than ever, it is clear that social justice is at the heart of our mission.”
With exhilarating performances by the Chapin family, Grace Potter, Felix Cavaliere and guest presenters guitar legend Warren Haynes and Paul Shaffer of The Late Show with David Letterman, the sense of energy and hope at the event was palpable. “What’s excitingto me,” said WhyHunger Board of Directors Chair Brian McMorrow, “is that the drum we’ve been beating for all these years is starting to resonate all around the world. The message we are bringing connects with a lot of people, and I’m looking forward to that. I think our message resonates loudest with young people and looking ahead, I can’t wait to do more with a younger generation.”
Enjoying the atmosphere of the evening, guest and WhyHunger supporter Lou Gordon reminisced about hearing Harry Chapin perform for an audience at Congress. “Harry was an inspiration, WhyHunger is an inspiration and Bill Ayres has continued that tradition,” Gordon said.
After dinner and a fundraising auction, the gala closed with an electrifying rendition of Harry Chapin’s ‘All My Life’s a Circle’. While audience members sang and danced along, the evening’s honorees, special guests and performers crowded together onstage, passionately proclaiming that hunger does not retire – and that the story is not over.
You're invited! Tickets and sponsorships are now available for the annual WhyHunger Chapin Awards Gala that will be held on Tuesday, June 23rd at the Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers in NYC. Honorees will include multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Grace Potter receiving the ASCAP Harry Chapin Vanguard Award, Co-founder and Ambassador Bill Ayres, receiving the WhyHunger Lifetime Achievement Award, and legendary singer songwriter and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee Felix Cavaliere of The Rascals, who will be presented with the ASCAP Harry Chapin Legacy Award by Paul Shaffer of the Late Show with David Letterman.
Guests will enjoy an extended cocktail reception, silent auction, dinner, and a unique 40th anniversary Exhibit: The WhyHunger Story. And, of course, amazing musical performances! Please join us for this special evening as we celebrate our 40th anniversary, honor Bill and recognize artists who stand with us through their philanthropic work in the fight against hunger and poverty.
Earlier this week, the 15th annual WhyHunger Chapin Awards, “Hope to End Hunger,” took place at the Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square, New York. The event was a celebration of those making a difference in the fight against hunger and poverty and honored Jeffrey Gural, chairman of the real estate firm Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, who has provided a home for WhyHunger for the past 22 years and is involved in many charities and community organizations like the Food Bank for NYC and the “I Have a Dream” Foundation. The ASCAP Harry Chapin Humanitarian Award went to The Fab Faux, a Beatles tribute band that has been involved with the WhyHunger Hungerthon for years, and their work with charitable organizations includes Lennon and Ono's Spirit Foundations and George & Olivia Harrison's Material World Foundation. Artists Against Hunger and Poverty members Martha Redbone and Blurred Vision performed at the event. See “Fab Faux Honored at 15th WhyHunger Chapin Awards” on The Examiner for more details on the performances.
The 2014 WhyHunger Chapin Awards, “Hope to End Hunger,” honored The Fab Faux with the ASCAP Harry Chapin Humanitarian award. From left to right: The Fab Faux’s Frank Agnello, ASCAP Assistant Vice President Loretta Muñoz, The Fab Faux’s Jack Petruzzelli, WhyHunger Managing Director Noreen Springstead, WhyHunger Executive Director Bill Ayres and The Fab Faux’s Will Lee.
An on-site farm was built by the youth volunteers at EcoStation:NY, a Brooklyn-based urban agriculture project. The farm included some of the herbs, vegetables and flowers found at EcoStation:NY’s Bushwick Campus Farm, a living classroom located on the grounds of the four high schools of Bushwick Campus. Three of EcoStation:NY’s student volunteers spoke on the power of urban agriculture; Benia Darius said, “The true beauty of farming in New York City is the ability to take back control of our food system.” Another student, Kristina Erksine, said, “Everyone should care about where their food comes from, because you become both the food and the ideas that you consume.”
Youth from WhyHunger partners EcoStation:NY in Brooklyn give a special keynote address at the 2014 WhyHunger Chapin Awards, “Hope to End Hunger,” at Hard Rock Cafe New York in Times Square. A farm constructed by EcoStation:NY was a feature at the event. From left to right: Iyeshima Harris, Benia Darius, Kristina Erksine
The 2014 WhyHunger Chapin Awards, “Hope to End Hunger,” featured the first ever on-site farm installation inside Hard Rock Cafe New York in Times Square. Constructed by youth from WhyHunger’s partners at EcoStation:NY in Brooklyn, the farm included some of the herbs, vegetables and flowers found at EcoStation:NY’s Bushwick Campus Farm, including tomatoes, cilantro, basil, sage, kale, salad greens, sunflowers and zinnias.
The program was inspiring and empowering. As WhyHunger Executive Director Bill Ayres said in his keynote presentation, “We’re not just feeding children, but we’re changing the way agriculture is done in the United States and around the world for economic and racial justice.” The WhyHunger Chapin Awards auction was also on display, included a guitar signed by Blondie and tickets to The Daily Show. Auction items will be up on CharityBuzz for only a couple more weeks, so make your bid today!
Thank you from the WhyHunger staff to everyone who helped make this year's WhyHunger Chapin Awards Dinner a success!