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Philanthropy Friday: ECDI’s Food Fort Fest

 Lynsey Harris, The Columbus Foundation Philanthropy Friday: ECDI’s Food Fort Fest
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Laura Lee, left, washes dishes from her Korean food truck, Ajumama, while Maria Siriano, owner of The Batch Bakery, makes cookies in the commercial kitchen at the Food Fort.

Certainly, you’ve heard of food trucks but have you heard of ECDI? Take a moment to learn about their impressive scope and efforts before we get to tonight’s Food Fort Fest.

The Economic and Community Development Institute (ECDI) is a nonprofit organization investing in people to create measurable and enduring social and economic change in Columbus. In eight years it has loaned $12 million with an average amount of $22,000. Four thousand jobs have come from the 2,000 businesses ECDI helped start through these loans and guidance.

Ajumama is one of the numerous local food trucks that park at Food Fort behind ECDI’s offices.

“One business at a time. We spend a lot of time with these small businesses to make them sustainable and give them access to the American dream. That’s what it’s all about,” said Inna Kinney, ECDI founder and CEO.

Beyond making loans, ECDI offers a variety of services to make social and economic change a reality. They offer training opportunities, technical assistance, tuition grants, and much more. Last year they opened the exciting and innovative Food Fort, the namesake and site of tonight’s Food Fort Fest.

“Food Fort, kind of like Celebrate Local, only right here on our campus, is a living example of a real physical business incubator specifically for food entrepreneurs of all sizes, shapes, and forms. Here they can leverage the commercial kitchen, get training, capitalization, an actual food cart, or help getting into a food truck,” said Steve Fireman, ECDI president.

Food Fort Fest serves as the grand opening of the new incubator kitchen spaces housed on the ECDI campus. Guests will have the opportunity to enjoy signature dishes from several mobile vendors. Bleu & Fig, a Food Fort catering client, will provide sample tastings and offer short cooking demonstrations to show the kitchen in action.

Maria Siriano, owner of The Batch Bakery, makes cookies in the new kitchen at Food Fort. “The classes, advice, community, and experience here have all been priceless,” Siriano said.

The free and open to the public festival, which runs today (August 17, 2012) from 5-9 p.m. at ECDI (1655 Old Leonard Avenue), will include a DJ, family activities, as well as opportunities to meet with many of the people using Food Fort to grow their businesses.

The Food Fort helps entrepreneurs gain access to the market and assets that they would otherwise never have.

“I don’t know where I’d be parking, where I’d be cleaning up, and the support on the back end of helping us find spots, helping with press, I can’t even begin to explain how helpful ECDI has been. Plus, all the businesses they help start have a vested interest in the community and they hire more people,” said Laura Lee, who launched her Korean food truck, Ajumama, with the help of Food Fort.

ECDI and the Food Fort are opening up their doors for the fest at a time when they are also looking to the central Ohio community to become more involved with their efforts.

Local Matters volunteers pack bags for their Veggie Van program at Food Fort.

“Historically, we’ve done a phenomenal job bringing in federal money, bank money, and now we’re making a really large effort to have this community hear about ECDI. Now it’s going to be central Ohioans helping central Ohioans,” said Fireman.

The efforts of community members and entrepreneurs inspire CEO Inna Kinney to continue pushing and innovating.

“We are proud because the community is becoming more and more involved. People can volunteer, we are always looking for interns, mentors, and contributions for our training and food fort, and there are a lot of things here that people can get involved with. It’s exciting. Our outcomes are impact. You can drive down the street and see the businesses we helped get started. Hopefully we will be able to create the next Bill Gates, Les Wexner, or the next big star,” said Kinney.

Steve Zeppetella, of Street Thyme, helps customers at Franklinton’s Dinin’ Hall. Street Thyme runs their operations out of Food Fort and travels all over Columbus with their American-style food.

Learn more and donate to the ECDI via their PowerPhilanthropy portrait.

Information about local nonprofits is available 24/7 through the Foundation’s online resource, PowerPhilanthropy, which is available to everyone who wants to be more informed about nonprofits before they give. PowerPhilanthropy makes it easy to donate to the causes you care about at columbusfoundation.org/p2/.

Follow us on Twitter at @colsfoundation and like The Columbus Foundation on Facebook.

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  • FoodFort

    Here is some information to help you enjoy Food Fort Fest Tonight.

    Here are parking tips & other helpful information for Food Fort Fest tonight.

    http://ow.ly/d2H2H

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