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11/25/2014 08:35 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How One Woman's Reinventing The Charity Dinner

Jesse Eustis/ Emily Rumsey

Above: A farm-to-table dinner Torgrimson cohosted for Oxfam America and Eat for Equity.

By Erin Luhmann

When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, Emily Torgrimson, then a budget-strapped college student, wanted to raise money for New Orleans -- and naturally headed to the kitchen. "I spent my teenage years living on a farm without cable," the 29-year-old says. "Cooking is how I entertained myself." Torgrimson made 60 pounds of Cajun jambalaya and asked each of the 30 roommates in her co-op to donate a few bucks and invite friends. About 100 people arrived, whetting her appetite to give back.

The next year, Torgrimson cofounded the nonprofit Eat for Equity, which offers communal, locally sourced feasts to support various charitable causes. Her gatherings serve up to 200 people at a sitting, at prices no one can beat: "Someone can pitch in $10, $20 or time washing dishes." The operation has grown beyond Torgrimson's own galley kitchen to the homes of Eat for Equity volunteers across the country, and has raised some $166,000 for organizations like Oxfam America and Kids in Crisis.

To spread the word, Torgrimson recently set out in an RV trailer renovated as a mobile kitchen, organizing dinners in eight cities (nothing too fancy -- kale with bacon dressing; berries and cream). Movable feasts can be challenging: In Tennessee, she fed 100 hungry people in 90-degree heat that melted her meringue. In between chopping vegetables and working the grill, Torgrimson tried, but failed, to save dessert. "These meals are far from perfect," she says. "I've come to realize it's about the people, not the pavlova." Head to EatForEquity.org to learn more -- and even host a dinner.

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