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Singer Beverly Graham brings food show to Whidbey Island

Beverly Graham performed for an outdoor  audience during the South Whidbey Tilth’s  Sustainability Banquet in August. - Cynthia Woolbright
Beverly Graham performed for an outdoor audience during the South Whidbey Tilth’s Sustainability Banquet in August.
— image credit: Cynthia Woolbright

Local songstress Beverly Graham and her group of Whidbey Island band-mates are bringing their talents home this weekend.

The musicians will perform their “Hungry, Will Sing for Food” concert at 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 14 at the South Whidbey High School Performance Auditorium.

Seven out of eight band-members who will be performing live on Whidbey. Graham has worked with some of these musicians for 20 years, while others are brand-new. She said this group works great together, and they generate a creative musical flow.

“This is the first time that we’ve done this combination of people,” Graham said. “It’s been a real blast.”

The group has had a grueling rehearsal schedule, Graham said. Members of the band rehearsed both individually and as a group every week.

“It made the music really tight,” she said. The band got to know the music so well that they could get creative with it, throwing extra elements in and taking other things out.

“When I work with a group the whole purpose is to get a creative flow from everybody,” she said.

“I love it.”

Saturday evening’s concert will be a chance for South Whidbey Islanders to see their friends’ and neighbors’ musical creation at a local venue.

It will also be a chance to hear about Graham’s latest success for her non-profit organization, Operation: Sack Lunch, based in Seattle.

Even though Graham wants to make this concert more about the music than anything else, she also wants to let the community know about the ways they can change other people’s lives through support of her organization.

Operation: Sack Lunch has progressed in many ways since the day in 1989 when Graham packed up 30 lunches, drove to downtown Seattle and handed them out on a street corner.

The organization’s latest accomplishment is marked by the launch of a new branch called Operation: Next Step. This program gets individuals back into the workforce by participating in a paid 26-week internship, first with Sack Lunch, then with a partner organization, such as Starbucks or Costco, where interns will obtain a permanent job with an equitable wage and benefits.

Graham is in the process of getting Next Step off the ground, and she also wants to make a difference in the life of a Katrina refugee in the process.

Graham met a man named Paul Nicolosi last month. Nicolosi had moved to New Orleans in July 2005 to chase his dream of opening his own pastry business.

His dream was short-lived, however. A month after his move, the hurricane hit and everything Nicolosi had worked for — including his 25-year chef’s portfolio — was lost.

After seeking refuge in a library, surviving without food and water for four days, and then staying for a short time in St. Louis, Nicolosi ended up at The Compass Center in Seattle, a multi-purpose shelter and the site of the Operation: Sack Lunch kitchen.

One day, Nicolosi came downstairs to the kitchen and asked if he could help prepare meals.

“He is an amazing chef, a five-star chef. One you would find in the best of restaurants,” Graham said. “And our meals, already top quality, took an added flair to the gourmet.”

After she meet Nicolosi, Graham wanted to help him in whatever way she could. She helped find him prospective jobs at Safeway and Costco, where he could put his chef skills to use.

When Graham told Nicolosi the news, she said he was grateful, but there was no spark in his eye.

Meanwhile, Graham was watching Nicolosi work in the kitchen.

“I saw how he works with people,” she said. “He’s very kind, he’s very gentle, and you can see that he knows what he’s doing.”

Graham said she asked Nicolosi if he would ever consider teaching his skills to people who couldn’t afford to go to school to learn the culinary trade.

“He told me he would give his eye and teeth to be able to help people that way,” Graham said.

After thinking about this, Graham realized that Nicolosi would be a perfect addition to the Operation: Sack Lunch team, cooking meals and training Operation: Next Step interns.

“I asked him how he would feel if he didn’t make much money at it, and didn’t get paid benefits,” she said.

Nicolosi told her even though he lost everything in the hurricane, strangely he felt that he had found a purpose. He said yes.

“I was really feeling that it was the correct thing for us,” Graham said. “It was an amazing moment between us.”

Graham wants to extend the opportunity to the community through Operation: Sack Lunch to help Nicolosi rebuild his life.

“By giving him the opportunity, Paul will pay it forward by helping many others who are homeless to rebuild their lives,” she said.

The organization’s goal is to raise money for Nicolosi’s salary and help him find a place to live, as well as a reliable vehicle and to replace his chef’s equipment that was lost during the hurricane.

Funds raised from Saturday’s concert will go to Operation: Sack Lunch. And Graham figures she should put out the call to anyone else who might be able to help in other ways.

“You don’t know unless you take it to the community,” Graham said.

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