Tuesdays for Tucson

Patrons of La Cocina Restaurant in South Tucson enjoy dinner at the “Make Way for Books” fundraiser on Tuesday April 5, 2016.
Patrons of La Cocina Restaurant in South Tucson enjoy dinner at the “Make Way for Books” fundraiser in April.

The young musicians line up on stage and prepare rows of cellos and violins. Small hands with slender fingers quickly tune their strings. The conductor approaches and raises his hands. The Tucson High Magnet Orchestra begins to play.

The patio is filled with onlookers dispersed across small, circular tables. Indigenous art and brightly painted walls intensify the atmosphere. Dangling lights create a ceiling of synthetic stars.

This is part of the weekly “Tuesdays for Tucson,” at La Cocina restaurant in the heart of old downtown Tucson. The event raises money for local non-profits every Tuesday from 3 p.m. until closing time. Ten percent of dinner sales go to the organization of the week.

“My hope is that other businesses will want to jump into this,” says Jo Schneider, the owner. She believes strong collaborations within communities can have a greater impact.

Schneider worked in special education for over 30 years but then decided to go into business. She began in Cleveland, Ohio with a used clothing store. Nonprofit organizations would often contact her for support. She decided six years ago that it would be better to just open up a permanent venue for them.

“I wanted more freedom, but I also wanted to continue giving back to the community without it being piecemeal,”  Schneider says. “These benefits allow me to do that and I want to encourage other local businesses to do the same.”

The music reaches a crescendo and ends. Heads look up from their hummus or smothered burritos. Applause roars through the night.

Susan Whiting, the orchestra coordinator, says the event will help students cover expenses for a professional, out-of-state workshop that occurs every three years.

Several other nonprofits have developed close relationships with the restaurant.

“I’ve dined at La Cocina in support of some of my favorite organizations and learned about others,” says Erin Sol, outreach coordinator for Southern Arizona Buffelgrass Organization, which helps protect Sonoran Desert ecosystems.

“There is fresh air, it’s mutually beneficial and my favorite beer is on tap,” she says.

Clinica Amistad has teamed up with La Cocina for the last three years in the early spring. The clinic, located in South Tucson at El Pueblo Regional Center, is open to those who do not have health insurance.

“Fundraising events allow us to offer the best care to those who might not otherwise have access,” says Alicia Swift, clinic manager.

The night winds down and people begin to drift away.

Jacob Tellez is a reporter for El Independiente, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact him at jacobtellez@email.arizona.edu

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