Make it Happen Grant Feature: From Shawarma to Service


Shwarma. Grape Leaves. Baklava. The savory and sweet flavors of Syrian cuisine created by an entrepreneurial Atlanta refugee family featured in Forbes for the secret supper club. Kale. Tomatoes. Basil. The vegetables planted in the Historic Westside Gardens, an Atlanta urban farm founded to remove barriers of access to fresh, healthy food for intown residents. Two distinct communities. How did they discover their commonalities? Follow along on their day of farming and feasting powered by Jesse Grossman’s (Global 2015) #MakeItHappen Passover grant.  You can contact him to talk more about all things 'social impact' in Atlanta or where to find the best food in the city. In his words.


What can the REALITY community contact you about?

If you are doing any impact work in the Atlanta community, I am more than happy to help. I have been able to build a strong network in the nonprofit and social entrepreneurship space here and love to help enhance it anyway I can. Also, I love good food, so let me know if you're in town and we can grab a meal! 

What inspired your #MakeItHappen Passover Grant?

I am always on the look out  for opportunities to do cool projects. I like to take themes and explore them in different directions, including connecting to Judaism. I’m on the board of The Historic Westside Gardens and do a lot in the urban volunteer space in Atlanta. I had also been connected to this incredible family who came over from Syria in July 2016 and has been launching a food business to support themselves. Knowing how much the refugee issue has been front and center in the news, especially in Atlanta, I wanted to take those two passions – this family and the gardens – and bring them together for a Passover event.  

Tell us more about why you picked up on the connection to Passover for this event.

I thought Passover, with the Exodus and theme of redemption, would be a great time to bring everyone together and bond over service and a shared meal. I also wanted to take the Westside of Atlanta and connect it with the East Side, where most refugees live. These communities don’t always mix. The Passover story is about leaving past shackles behind and coming together to journey toward something better, toward a shared dream. In this case, two communities facing a lot of current pressures were able to join hands, meet, and create connections that would help build bridges to a better future. We did wait until just after Passover ended, in order to ensure we could enjoy pita instead of matzah.

Tell us about the day’s activities.

The event went great. We did volunteer work in the garden with the families from the Westside mixing with East Side families. It was amazing to watch the kids from Syria and the kids from Atlanta - they didn’t speak the same language, but they played together and meshed as one community.  

How did you celebrate after volunteering?

The meal was a delicious feast prepared by the family with traditional Syrian foods. My favorite dish was the Mahshi Warak Enab (Stuffed Grape Leaves). It was not the typical Passover celebration or food, but everyone got to share in the other side of Passover, the themes of Exodus and how Passover calls on us to help others while moving ourselves forward as a whole community. 

What advice would you give to someone who might be thinking about applying for a #MakeItHappen Grant?

Think small-put the funds to use in a way that they can have maximum impact rather than trying to do a huge event. Lots of other ideas I had for Passover would have taken a lot more time to plan and were simply too big. Also, identify partners who can help make it happen with you. For this project, I reached out to people I knew in the refugee space who I trusted would be able to help and bring the whole thing to life.

The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or all program participants.