South Burlington, VT — On Friday, the South Burlington Rotary Club hosted a fundraising take-out dinner featuring an Abyssinian dinner prepared by Alganesh Michael. Michael, who hails from Eritrea is a former nurse turned homemaker who now cooks Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisine from scratch and is popularizing this particular ethnic cuisine in the Lake Champlain region.
“I started doing this part-time over six years ago. At the time, I had another job but a little over two years ago, I stopped working so I could focus on this instead because I wanted to give it my 100%. Now I’m a small business owner, LLC. At the moment, I don’t have a physical address of my own, however, I collaborate with a local store in South Burlington, The Mill Market & Deli to offer my weekly takeouts and more. Some of the services I offer are catering, hosting pop-up dinners, and teaching cooking class.”
While the takeout dinners have limited orders, Michael says she gets many customers. “I have followers and regulars but since the word really spreads out, I find new people coming in here and there. There is no food like this around the area so my customers are happy whenever I do this, and with things like the fundraiser, I find they like to support things as well.”
When asked if there is an Ethiopian community in Chittenden County, Michael said, “There is not a big community, I can count on one hand how many families there are. Before the pandemic, the families would get together for events and to celebrate holidays but we haven’t gotten together since.”
Michael hopes to raise awareness for Ethiopia and Eritrea through her actions and has been spearheading fundraisers as well as serving as a guest speaker for colleges. “I was a food and culture guest speaker at Champlain College and used it as a chance to spread the word about what is happening overseas. Anytime I get an opportunity to speak, I bring a little food so the students can try it. When they listen to what is happening in those countries and get to experience the food and culture, they stop and think.
“Last year for my birthday, I fundraised for mothers with newborns in Eritrea who are escaping the situations overseas. I wanted to do something to help them and raised $2,000. While fundraising is important, the biggest thing for me is awareness. There are things happening in those countries that no one here knows about so awareness to me is just as important. My husband is Ethiopian and is setting up a 501(c) non-profit organization so people can donate.”
The Friday fundraiser was aimed at raising money to support Haiti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Ukraine and to help complete Polio eradication, with 72 dinners being sold. Each dinner consisted of a meat or vegetarian option, curried lentils, collard greens and an option to either have rice or Injera, a fermented sourdough bread.
Other Rotary members donated baked goods that could be purchased separately and local violinists serenaded visitors.
“A lot of people may think that polio is gone but it is not,” said President-Elect Kate Nugent. “Polio is still prevalent in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan. Every year we give $500 to help eradicate polio. We also give $500 to the Vermont Haiti Project, which is connected to the Rotary Club in Haiti. The Rotary Clubs have access to their communities that a lot of agencies do not have.
“There is ongoing fundraising year-round and we encourage folks to donate to the Ukraine effort. We also have a golf fundraiser planned for September 19, which is easily our biggest fundraiser.”
The South Burlington Rotary Club plans three major fundraisers per year in addition to smaller events and raises around $40-50,000 a year, with major portions going to Rotary International and local non-profits. Around $4,000 was donated to the South Burlington Food Shelf just after the holidays in the form of Trader Joe’s gift cards for people to get additional items that were not available at the food shelf.
Given the success of the Taste of Abyssinia fundraiser, the Rotary Club will look to host another one in the future.