Common Threads’ Fiscal Year 2021 Annual Report

Dear Friends,

I think we can all agree that stepping into this new year brings hope and at the same time an opportunity to reflect and improve.  So much has transpired over the past year, I imagine each of us spends time thinking and searching for answers to the why and how our world got so turned upside down. Mending is never a straight line and while we have gained some more understanding of the fissures in our system, which have existed for some time, we can and must keep taking steps toward the kind of future that we all want to see, experience and secure for our children.  My biggest lesson professionally and personally has always been to surround yourself with those that show-up and to strive, always, to be that person.  Our team, chefs, board, volunteers, and partners continue to do just that and it makes all the difference.

Increasing access and consumption of healthy food with an approach that improves sustainability, food justice, and community wellness is bigger than one agency, institution, or organization. It takes a village to move the needle.  Our lane – culturally responsive, experiential cooking and nutrition education – is a small part of building a stronger food system and healthier communities, but the ‘fix’ will take many minds and hearts to shape and execute the interventions and policies to see movement.   We are grateful to be in this together with the doers and changemakers in our collective space, and are looking forward to writing this next chapter with you.    

In Good Health,

Linda Novick O’Keefe

Co-Founder & CEO


2021 challenged Common Threads to think creatively about healthcare partnerships and adapting programs to new community settings. With the support of UChicago Medicine, we were excited to develop a new place-based partnership with Oakwood Shores, a mixed-income housing community located in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood. This special project expanded Common Threads’ efforts to meet communities where they eat, live, and play, but outside the walls of our typical settings of schools and community centers. The project was also unique in its inclusion of physicians as instructors in interactive lessons and its engagement of seniors.

Over the course of the year, residents were able to participate in cooking classes co-led by Common Threads’ Chef Instructor Shawanna Kennedy and Dr. Ed McDonald, a gastroenterologist at UChicago Medicine and Common Threads National Board Member. From butternut squash mac ‘n cheese and spiced chicken kabobs to veggie stir-fry, participants followed along with recipes in their own kitchens during virtual lessons, while Chef Shawanna shared cooking tips and techniques and Dr. McDonald brought insight into the health benefits of certain ingredients. Each lesson always left time for open discussion on cooking and/or health, with topics including the cancer preventing nutrients of vegetables, the addictive power of sugar and its impact on weight and mood, and even COVID-19 vaccinations. Later in the year, programming was able to return in-person, but maintained flexibility to pivot to virtual lessons given the fluctuating state of the pandemic.

Senior Program Manager Kassie Hinrichsen noted “The Oakwood Shores partnership is powerful because we are educating a community of families in their home environments. There’s a multiplier effect when parents, grandparents, friends and neighbors are taking the same health and wellness journey together.” 

In addition to leading lessons, Common Threads organized two major community events at Oakwood Shores where we distributed food boxes, recipes, and flyers to support recruitment for programs and combat food insecurity. Importantly, in conjunction with each virtual lesson, participants were provided with food boxes complete with all of the ingredients needed to follow along during lessons and prepare a nutritious meal for their family. The food distribution component of the project allowed Common Threads to strengthen its relationship with grocery partners, such as Wild Fork and Gourmet Gorilla. 

Throughout the course of the project, Common Threads engaged 181 residents, ranging from youth to seniors, in our interactive cooking programs. Additionally, in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, while food insecurity was higher among residents, we distributed 360 total food boxes. Beyond these outputs, the project was most successful in developing a new partnership model and engaging a new audience, seniors. The presence of Black physicians during lessons and their interaction with Chef Shawanna and residents was new for our program delivery and added tremendous value by focusing the lessons on diet and health. Common Threads is exploring future directions for this type of co-led programming that leverages the expertise of medical partners. Finally, in engaging seniors in lessons and focus groups through this project, Common Threads was able to begin assessing how we can make our programming more inclusive of seniors in the future.

We look forward to the future of our partnership with Oakwood Shores and hope that the rich insights gathered from this project inform future housing partnerships, co-led programming with physicians, and engagement with senior citizens.

Media Connections

Common Threads launched important media partnerships in 2021, resulting in exciting growth opportunities and impacting more children and families across the nation. From Miami to Los Angeles, these collaborations helped us share cooking and nutrition education resources through new, community-wide channels.

Los Angeles Unified School District:

In California, Common Threads partnered with Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) to create Small Bites TV episodes which premiered on their KLCS PBS channel.  These videos supported LAUSD’s Wellness Program by combining healthy cooking and physical activity into one episode., Common Threads Chef Instructor, Monti Carlo worked with LAUSD to record nutritional videos that students and families can use as resources to help improve their overall wellness.

SoFlo Health:

In Florida, Common Threads partnered with SoFlo Health, a weekly health and wellness show produced by WPLG-Local 10 (Miami’s ABC affiliate), to film segments focused on healthy recipes, grocery shopping, and physical activity featuring Chef Instructor Mariano Mercado and Program Manager Mimi Chacin. Chef Mimi Chacin identified Common Threads recipes that were suitable for the summer heat, including Veggie Topped Aussie Turkey Burgers, Watermelon and Feta Salad, Coconut Lime Yogurt Dip with Fruit, and Strawberry Lemonade.

Number of students, adults and virtual participants reached

Amount of snacks and meals served to participants

Number of program hours completed throughout the year

Exploring Nutrition Equity in Chicago

The topics of “nutrition equity” and “nutrition security” have become prominent during the pandemic and reveal a shift in the way communities, local governments, and policymakers are thinking about food security. To dive deeper, Common Threads hosted a panel discussion with community leaders in Chicago in June 2021 to learn more about local efforts to improve access to nutritious food. Panelists included Jaye Stapleton, Director of Social Services Policy for Chicago’s Office of the Mayor; Angela Odoms Young Ph.D. Associate Professor of Kinesiology and Nutrition for the University of Illinois at Chicago; and Jessica Mater, Director of Programs and Operations for America SCORES Chicago. Chicago Public Schools’ then-CEO Janice K. Jackson Ed.D. provided opening remarks, reflecting on how the district can support nutrition equity within the City of Chicago.

The most prominent themes to emerge from the discussion were the importance of engaging communities as leaders and experts in nutrition security initiatives.

Odoms-Young noted, “How can we make sure the community is in the lead, and not just in the position of receiving services, but where they’re creating opportunities for the communities they live and work in, and they know closely historically?”

Panelists also spoke to the importance of cultural responsiveness when designing nutrition programs, emphasizing the importance of a well-rounded approach that considers food in connection, not only to physical health, but also mental and emotional wellness. Further, panelists discussed the ways the medical community can support and strengthen community-based efforts. 

Open dialogues like this panel help to broaden community understanding of nutrition equity and efforts underway in Chicago. Through our education programs, Common Threads is committed to continuing to learn from and partner with communities in their multifaceted efforts to improve health and nutrition equity in Chicago and throughout each of the cities we serve. Learn more about this panel discussion here.


In July 2021, Common Threads, along with several of our partners, hosted a virtual Wellness Summit for educators. The goals were to provide educators with tools for healthy classrooms and gain insights into the interests of teachers to inform further professional development resources offered by Common Threads. Over 140 educators attended and presenters at the summit included: Baptist Health South Florida, Big Green, BOKS, Brighter Bites, Common Threads, FARMFRESH FoodPrints, Financial Literacy Coalition of Central Texas, Kid-Grit, and Pilot Light.


Throughout the month of February, Common Threads successfully collaborated with our partner, JHS 217 Robert A Van Wyck School in New York City, to conduct special programming for students around Black History Month. A total of 67 virtual workshops were completed in which a Common Threads Nutrition Educator discussed the significance of African American contributions to nutrition and wellness, reviewed the rich and flavorful aspects of soul food, and watched food demonstrations with 6th-8th graders. The students were incredibly active and engaged in the conversations during the workshops and  also expressed interest in wanting to learn more about the history of Soul Food.


Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion

Over the past 12 months, Common Threads continued to work towards the goals of achieving DEI education for leadership and staff, celebrating diverse cultures and foods, and applying DEI principles to our daily operations. 

Last year, Common Threads became more informed about racial discrimination against Asian-American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI). We hosted a coffee chat with Asian-American chefs (Bill Kim and Anito Lo) about their their careers in culinary arts and experiences with discrimination. Additionally, we learned a lot from Dr. Stella Yi (NYU Langone Health) about how biases and stereotypes of AAPI communities lead to a lack of research about these communities and their needs, limited public health services, and oversights in nutrition and food considerations. Finally, we tackled discrimination head on by partnering with Advancing Justice Chicago, Council on American Islamic Relations Chicago, and Hollaback! to host a “Bystander Intervention Training”. 

Each month, we hosted diversity celebrations, recognizing different cultures and foods, as well as the contributions and histories of diverse populations, including  Black History, Women’s History, Asian-American and Pacific Islanders Month, LGBT, Hispanic Heritage Month, and more! Please visit our website for blogs, recipes, and videos.

Finally, we continued progress toward developing an organizational DEI framework. Key objectives that the organization has committed to achieving include increasing language translations of web-based and printed materials, including recipes, and improving community-level data collection. 

An organizational progress report about our DEI objectives and initiatives is in- progress, with a planned release date in early 2023. 


Individual Fundraising Success:

Common Threads had a successful year of growth with individual giving, resulting in $162,572 in total giving – more than double giving in this category from the previous year. To start off the fiscal year, the organization exceeded its goals on Give Miami Day, Giving Tuesday, and throughout our Summer Health Campaign. While donations remained about the same as last year for Give Miami Day at $15,661, we doubled the number of donors for the day. Giving Tuesday brought in significant new revenue for Common Threads, with donations totaling $51,829 (equaling more than 5x the amount from the previous year and almost 10x as many donors).  The donations included $10,000 from Zoom as a matching gift, which helped us to exceed our goals. The Summer Health Campaign knocked the $15,000 goal out of the water with $26,462 in donations. Meanwhile, a new partnership with First We Feast, the producer of the Hot Ones YouTube talk show, resulted in $25,214 in donations from individuals donating through their platform.

New Funder Spotlight:

Common Threads was thrilled to launch a new partnership with the ISA Foundation in 2021. With their generous grant of $90,000, we have provided programs with several schools and community partners in Chicago, Miami, and Pittsburgh during 2021-22. Common Threads and the ISA Foundation share a commitment to health and wellness education for young people and their families. The Foundation is specifically dedicated to furthering healthy nutrition for underserved children, wellness education for all, support for those affected by natural disasters, and the pursuit of equality. We have been excited by the opportunity to work closely with the ISA Foundation team and look forward to what the future holds for our partnership.

Longtime Partner Spotlight: 

Common Threads was grateful to receive a $50,000 grant from the Annenberg Foundation in fall 2020, which supported our efforts in Los Angeles during the 2020-21 school year and allowed us to sustain virtual cooking and nutrition education programs for Los Angeles students and families throughout the pandemic. The Annenberg Foundation has been a longtime, dedicated supporter of Common Threads. We are grateful for their commitment and continued investment in our work.

Longtime Partner Spotlight: 

Giant Eagle has been an incredible partner and an outstanding contributor since 2016, helping Common Threads start programming in Pittsburgh. Their Corporate and Foundation contributions have totaled $600,000, enabling us to serve 14,515 children and families in under-resourced communities. As the need for food grew, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, Giant Eagle donated almost $60,000 in food coupons to expand Common Threads’ ability to provide access to nutritious food in a dignified manner for our families. They continue to be an incredibly collaborative partner in helping our Pittsburgh children and their families learn what it means to cook for life.


Recognizing outstanding program partnerships for their commitment and the advancement of our mission.

Dallas Park & Recreation

During summer 2021, Dallas Park and Recreation facilitated Small Bites in 35 summer camps across the City of Dallas. Over 600 students participated in programming. Common Threads trained 36 staff through our Healthy Teacher Training program to empower support staff members in improving their personal health and wellness, act as healthy role models for students, and build an organizational culture of wellness.

USDA Farm to School

Inspired by Chicago’s local food movement and with the support of a USDA Farm to School grant, Common Threads has started purchasing ingredients for our cooking classes at select partner sites from local farmers and purveyors.

City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County

Summer 2021 was the busiest summer in our five years of programming in Pittsburgh. We offered a new Olympic-themed Small Bites curriculum that was integrated into nine summer camps across the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. These camps ranged from 30 kids to 900 kids, with a total of over 1,200 K-8 grade students participating. Summer camp partners included Pittsburgh Public School District’s BOOST Camp, Woodland Hill School District’s Opportunity camp, Methodist Union of Social Agencies’ camp, Citiparks Camp Jefferson, and Casa San Jose Virtual Camp.

El Paso at Tornillo ISD

Common Threads deepened its impact in El Paso at Tornillo ISD during the 2020-21 school year by offering our full menu of program services. With support from the Paso del Norte Health Foundation’s HEAL Initiative, we brought our Cooking Skills and World Cuisine and Family Cooking Class programs to the El Paso region for the first time during the summer. Each cooking class incorporated fresh, local produce from Bodea Loya, and participants were able to take some of the leftover produce home to use in their own kitchen. 

Boys & Girls Clubs Texas

A Texas-wide partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs Texas Alliance included training 95 educators who in turn implemented Small Bites with 750 students across four Austin, Dallas/Fort Worth, San Antonio, Houston.

Finances Fiscal Year 2021

(Unaudited,October 1, 2020 – September 30, 2021)

View Unaudited Common Threads – Financial Statements Sept 2021


October 1, 2020 – September 30, 2021

BANQUET ($500K+)

New York Office of Temporary & Disability Assistance

Texas Health and Human Services Commission

3-COURSE MEAL ($150K+)



Entrée ($25K)




Baptist Health Foundation of San Antonio


Sprouts Healthy Communities Foundation

Cheyne C. Pace Irrev Trust

Knuth Family Fund

NYC Queens Borough President

Community Wealth

Cadence McShane Construction

Farmhouse Austin

Dr. School Foundation

Nora Roberts Foundation

NYC Council Member Lanceman’s Office

Silicon Valley Community Foundation


Venable Foundation

BITES ($500+)

Hot Ones

LA Kings

San Antonio City Council Projects Funds


Well Foundation

Dollar Bank


LDEI, Les Dames d’Escoffier International

The Fine and Greenwald Foundation

Lakeshore Beverage

Individual Donors

October 1 – September 30, 2021
$10,000 +

Neil Cotty

Mike Denman

Sarita Dandamundi Rao

Art Smith


Lori C. McGee

Laura Karet

Angie Cooper


Tres Bailey

Chris and Jen Walter

Suzanne McFayden

David Lease


Dr. Fatima Cody Standford

Geoffrey Tully 

Barbara Clayton

Susan Maxwell

Ed Levy

Cyrus Bahrassa

Michael Moran

Elizabeth Avery

Lynda Coffman


Madeleine Grynsztejn

Sara Wilburn

Sigita Clark 

Liebe Gadinsky 

Douglas and Catherine Knuth

Raeanne Sarazen

Lee Stuck 

Marissa Pines and Jared Berman

Erin Mynaugh 

Lawrence Carrino 

Tony Jimenez 

Maite Velez-Couto

Brandon Rose 

Amy Buczko

Christopher Brown 

Patricia and Jorge Azze

National & Regional Boards

October 1 – September 30, 2021
National Board of Directors

Angie Cooper | Board Chair (Bentonville, Ark.)

Art Smith | Chair Emeritus (Jasper, Fla.)

Jesus Salgueiro | Vice Chair (Jasper, Fla.)

Fatima Cody Standford, MD, MPH, MPA | Vice Chair (Boston)

Mike Denman | Secretary (Chicago)

Neil Cotty | Treasurer (Naples, Fla.)

Tres Bailey (Washington, D.C.)

Scott Barnhart (Miami)

Michelle Bernstein (Miami)

Alberto Carvalho (Miami)

Mary Christ-Erwin (Annapolis, Md.)

Jimm E. Cobb (Chicago)

Sarita Dandamudi Rao (Dallas)

Lauren Karet (Pittsburgh)

Abel Martinez (San Antonio)

Elizabeth Wise (Washington, D.C.)

Chicago Board

Priyanka Patel | Chair

Alex Stroller | Vice Chair

Sydney Karp Poll | Secretary

Joe Madison | Treasurer

Jared Bosma

Spencer Coates

Suzanne Hill

Ashley Jones

Irini Kolaitis, MD FAAP

Natalie Marotta

Erin Mynaugh

Avi Nagaraja

Marissa Pines

Pavel Sokolovsky

Jared Scharen

Lee Stuck

Ashley Webb

Sara Wilburn

Washington D.C. Board

Cristina Antelo

Elizabeth Avery

Tres Bailey

Joyce Brayboy

Dan Christenson

Kate Coler

Anne Curry

Molly Fogarty

Jennifer Hatcher

Kate Houston

Tyson Redpath

Maggie Sommers Gentile

Miami Board

Patricia Azze | Chair

Rochelle Gapere | Vice Chair

Kelly Moran | Secretary

Geoffrey Tully | Treasurer

Jorge Azze

Karen Barofsky

Tony Jimenez

Hector Gutierrez

Elizabeth Halle

David Lanster

Jennifer Einersen

Jon Nguyen

John Parenti, MS, RDN,LD

Javier Ramirez

Brandon Rose P.A.

Chris Sanz

Rashad Thomas

Lucette Talamas

Los Angeles Board

Lori C. McGee | Board Chair

Govind Armstrong

Doneen Arquines

Claudia Bonilla Keller

John Kolaski

Amanda Nuñez

Cary Walker

Advisory Boards

October 1 – September 30, 2021
National Advisory Board

Tamron Hall (New York)

Jasmine Ratliff (St. Louis)

Julius E. Rhodes, SPHR (Chicago) 

Kate Rubin (Minneapolis)

Gail Simmons (New York)

Tim Peters (Chicago)

Strategic Advisory Committee

Alejandro Diasgranados (Washington, D.C.)

Jayne Greenberg Ph.D. (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.)

Jin-Soo Huh (Chicago)

Angela Odoms-Young Ph. D. (Chicago)

Raeanne Sarazen, MA, RDN (Chicago)

Julia Shklovskaya (Chicago)

Medical Partnerships Advisory Board

Steve Buege (Chicago)

Jimm Cobb (Chicago)

Melinda Ring M.D. (Chicago)

Fatima Cody Standford, MD, MPH, MPA (Boston)


Many of the communities in which we work will be especially vulnerable to the repercussions of the pandemic.


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