Buddhist Temple’s musical fundraiser for Auburn Food Bank nets $9,360 for backpack program

When the White River Temple’s fundraising musical revue for the Auburn Food Bank’s backpack program for disadvantaged students made its online debut Nov. 20, food bank director Debbie Christian was watching.

If you ask her about it, you’re sure to get a smile.

And Christian has reason. Between the $5,360 raised and the $4,000 the Temple Community Fund and Friends of the Temple contributed in matching funds, the net was $9,360.

That’s no small potatoes.

“It’s life saving for this program,” Christian said.

The “Food to Go – Backpack” program provides backpacks filled with single-serve, high-protein, kid-friendly foods on weekends and holidays so children within the Auburn School District do not go hungry when they aren’t able to access school meals.

Because those sorts of foods are more expensive for one person than when they are bought in bulk, Christian explained, the backpack program costs $700 to $800 a week to make it happen. To the food bank, that is a lot of money.

While Christian has kept the vital program going using mainly money banked from an estate sale donation more than 10 years ago, the fund has now dwindled to its last $2,000 to $3,000. So she has written grants — United Way has a grant of about $5,000 that focuses especially on backpack programs. Monetary donations continue to come in to fill the gaps, and every year in July and August, she asks local businesses to focus their assistance only on food for the backpacks.

“We try to pull all the donations we can get, which is free food that can go into it,” Christian said. “But if we have to buy, I have to pull from the account. This $9,360, though, that gives us another probably three years or so.”

White River Buddhist Temple member Vivian Alexander first saw the need to support the imperiled program in the spring of 2021. She approached Temple Sensei Jim Warrick with an idea: an event to raise money to support the backpack food-to-go program. He liked what she had to say.

“We discovered this need for these children, and we found this was an additional way that we could help,” Warrick said. “Our Buddhist teaching is, if you serve yourself, you’re going to be unhappy, but if you serve others that brings you the greatest happiness.”

Temple members Don Gardner, Kendall Kosai and others began putting the event together in May of 2021, with Gardner — former owner of Green River Music in downtown Auburn, and a versatile musician in his own right — recruiting all the talent.

“We had a discussion and decided there were several different ways of approaching it,” Gardner said. “One was doing a live stream and having an auction with it. But we decided because of the COVID thing that doing livestream, an actual live show, was out of the question. So we narrowed it to a pre-recorded video, and silly me, I volunteered to recruit the musical entertainment.”

It would feature guitarist, singer and songwriter Bronson Bragg; Voices 4, a vocal quartet from Kent, Washington, composed of Linda Fahlgen-Moe, soprano, Kailey Mutter, alto, Jill Lawrence, alto, and Rae Colburnem, bass; Kareem Kandi, saxophonist; and the Take 7 Little Big Band with Stan Hernacki, trumpet, Dave Knecht, trombone, Craig Schwendemen, saxophone, Don Gardner, trombone, Dave Hoskin, drums, John Giuliani, bass, Henry Nielson, piano, Jenny Goebel, trombone, Debbie Jaap, piano, Dan Hendrick, trumpet, and Ron Appel, trumpet.

Gardner said all of the above musicians volunteered their services, fee-free.

At the end of August and on through September and October, the musicians either contributed their video content, or Gardner arranged to record their material. Another important player in the exercise was their technical go-to-guy, Kosai, who did some of the video work and then put the final video together. Gardner contributed all the audio for the remote recordings and voice overs.

Finding a place to record proved a tough task.

“The original plan was to try to do some of the recording outdoors because of the neutral, acoustical properties,” Gardner said. “We got one session in at the end of August and early September, but the weather kind of went south on us, and outdoors was no longer a viable option.

“So then we struggled to find indoor facilities, but again, because of the COVID thing, there wasn’t a whole lot available. We ended up using the Temple for one of the recording sessions, and then the owners of Soos Creek Botanical Gardens graciously donated their barn. We did quite a lot of the recording in that barn one day with a couple different artists,” Gardner said.

The video is still online, Gardner said, and as of two weeks ago today, it had 143 views.

“Don and others put this musical thing together, and I’m just so grateful that we as a temple were able to come together and be a conduit,” said Warrick.

“Asking for donations through the temple’s online portal was a soft way of asking, and people responded very well,” Christian said.

Auburn Food Bank Director Debbie Christian

Auburn Food Bank Director Debbie Christian