Annual Pizzafest fundraises for charity

Nonprofit agency funnels revenue, helps impoverished


Cody Casares / The Advocate

Nu-Nhi Nguyen (right) and Ken Mikami from World Traveling Pizza Makers garnish a pizza with marshmallows for their Smores pizza during Pizzafest in Berkeley on Sunday.

By Christian Urrutia, Editor-in-Chief

BERKELEY — Hundreds of local residents ventured to Gilman and 9th Streets on Saturday for an ensemble of pizza and beer, and in support of a charitable cause.

Pizzafest, an all-you-can-eat pizza festival, was a collaborative effort between The Companion Group, a kitchen product company and Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency (BOSS), a non-profit organization meant for improving the lives of the homeless.

This second year event featured 13 pizza teams, each with their own ovens and equipment, as well as dough and some ingredients provided by The Companion Group.

The eclectic array of pizza consisted of specialty items such as Smores, nutella chocolate spread, bananas, figs, prosciutto and chicken tikkla masala to name a few.

Two brewing companies, Lagunitas and Fieldworks supplied various favors of pale ales and other beer to accompany the vast options of pizza.

Patrons paid $20 for the entry fee or an advance ticket for $10 that included unlimited pizza and beer and were given three tokens to vote for their favorite selection.

Proceeds from the ticket, beer and raffle sales all go to benefit BOSS, particularly their Children Learning Center where many homeless children are behind in reading and writing skills, BOSS communications manager Jeannie Swafford said.

“The goal is self-sufficiency and The Companion Group was (immensely) helpful in reaching out to us and it is humbling to be involved,” Swafford said.

Chuck Adams, CEO of The Companion Group said the company was looking to partner with a nearby organization to host an event similar in vein to Oktoberfest festivals.

“Since the Harrison (shelter) was nearby it was a great opportunity for us and we’re community orientated and people love (pizza),” Adams said.

San Francisco resident Adjani Nicholso agrees.

“My friend told me about this event who lives here in Berkeley and pizza for $10 is not bad. It’s a big turn out. I would definitely come again,” he said.

Judy Levin, an Oakland resident added to the sentiment.

“I came last year and it’s a great cause to help out with and where else do you get the chance to eat all the pizza you want.

“The competition is fun and they do great job,” Levin said.

Life of Pie’s executive chef Michael Greenberg said his group was fortunate enough to win last year’s competition and now they are defending their title.

“The sponsors put in amazing work and it is a great pleasure to help.

BOSS could end up receiving a lot of money and we try to do a lot for the community, for us to do that, it’s nice to see,” Greenberg said.

As the recipient of all the money earned during the event, BOSS plans to continue its four strategies to help overcome homelessness— emphasizing on health, housing, income and social justice.

One important example from these strategies, specifically the income strategy is the payee program that BOSS endorses and helps homeless individuals apply for.

“Often times these individuals don’t have a place to go and cash out their checks, once they earn them, so we do check deposits as a service.

We try to help them pay their phone bill and provide them with cash. We also try to encourage them to open checking and savings accounts, one step closer to self-sufficiency,” Swafford said.

Swafford added that most individuals without housing have phones since communication or access to the Internet is nearly impossible without it and most times need a place where they can take care of the bill.

The payee program provides that necessity, Swafford said.