Common Threads’ Fiscal Year 2020 Annual Report


Dear friends,

After an entire year of social distancing, masking up, and striving to remain connected digitally, our Common Threads family has found new ways of digging in and reaching out. Calls, Zooms, Teams, Slack, Google Meets, one-on-ones, panels, roundtable conversations and grocery deliveries became the new way of connecting and making it happen. We quickly realized that this “new normal” gave us the benefit of meeting families where they are by cooking with families in their homes through the benefit of technology.

We started this year by looking back on our founding, when Art Smith and Jesus Salgueiro brought Common Threads to life following 9/11. Instead of capping off our 15th anniversary celebrations, our team shifted its attention to the unprecedented food insecurity and health care crises our communities faced. We recentered, committed to the idea of going deeper into community, introducing a Family Meals food access initiative (totaling 45,933 meals and snacks) and transitioning our curriculum to a virtual environment (reaching 2,555 students, parents and teachers).

Just months into the pandemic, communities across the country called for social justice following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin and countless other Black Americans who have died as a result of senseless acts of violence motivated by race. Common Threads joined many organizations and individuals around the globe in declaring racism as a public health issue, finding new found meaning in our mission and our ability to advocate for change. Although diversity, equity and inclusion are woven through Common Threads’ history, mission and core values, we took time to reflect and re-examine, incorporating additional content into our staff training and engagement initiatives, and enhancing the Community Impact pillar of our strategic plan.

Our mission has always been one that centered on sanctuary, tolerance, healing, discovery and celebration. As an organization, Common Threads has grown and changed so much, but we reflect today knowing that what’s stated in our values remains especially important:

“We are committed to teaching children and families about selecting ingredients to cook meals and snacks that are nutritious; bringing joy to families; and celebrating our diversity of culture with a global perspective on recipes and food.”

We could not have done any of the important work of the past year without YOU. We are grateful for the unwavering support of our donors, supporters, board members and community partners who have helped us continue to fulfill our mission in spite of the many obstacles we face. I also want to extend a special thank you to our staff, who have shown incredible grace, resilience and leadership through the ups and downs of this rollercoaster year.

Thank you for being a part of this journey.

In good health,

Linda Novick O’Keefe

Co-Founder & CEO

On the Horizon

Common Threads enters 2021 with a number of exciting initiatives:

Los-Angeles_California stock image

PBS Affiliate

Los Angeles PBS Affiliate

  • A new 12-episode TV show has been developed in collaboration with Los Angeles Unified School District and KLCS, Los Angeles’ PBS affiliate. The half-hour episodes are intended for school age children and will each highlight one of Common Threads’ Small Bites units along with physical activity.
Small Bites

Farm to School

USDA’s Farm to School

New York Location


Although most of our instruction remains virtual, we are starting to offer a limited amount of in-person programming in Miami and Pittsburgh with a modified delivery plan.


Although the pandemic removed Common Threads’ ability to offer in-person instruction, we knew nutrition and food access remained a key issue for families across the country as they grappled with the new realities of job losses and family illnesses. A study by The Brookings Institution found that mothers with children under the age of 12 faced much higher rates of food insecurity (two in five households, compared to one in five overall). Additionally, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed disproportionately high rates of COVID morbidity in Black and brown communities.

Common Threads was able to find the “silver lining” to the “dark cloud” of the pandemic, developing engaging virtual programs that allowed staff to connect with students and families in their own homes. 

“Up until now, Common Threads has not had the opportunity to work with students and families in their own home environment,” said Vice President of Programs Stephanie Folkens. “Our virtual programming allowed us to have a dialogue with participants, allowing us to make practical, real time recommendations for how they can cook in their own kitchens.”
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Early on, our work transformed to support food access programs in most of our cities, collaborating with chefs, grocers and community nonprofits to help families gain access to healthy groceries and chef-prepared meals. In total, we offered 43,933 meals to families facing financial insecurity as a result of COVID-19.

Our team was also quick to transition our nutrition education and cooking class content to a virtual environment, implementing meaningful programming to conclude the spring 2020 semester. When it became evident that the quarantine would continue into the summer, our Programs team created a virtual 10-day summer camp experience that infused art, physical activity, dance and academic subjects into Common Threads’ cooking and nutrition lessons. Thanks to our incredible supporters, we were able to offer the entire program, including all groceries and equipment, at no charge to 200 participants.

An at-home, on-demand cooking program emerged this summer to support families seeking additional learning opportunities for their children. Our initial program is focused on grades 3-5 and includes nine self-paced units.

Community Impact

TakeCare film:

Common Threads was featured in a documentary film created by the TakeCare campaign. The Cooking for Life film shows Kamya, a medical student at Northwestern University who is teaching a Common Threads Small Bites course at Rowe Elementary School in Chicago. She was enrolled in Cooking Up Health, a culinary medicine course Common Threads developed with the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern University.

City of Miami Gardens:

Common Threads continued its collaboration with the City of Miami Gardens, offering several virtual cooking classes through Facebook Live as part of former Mayor Oliver Gilbert’s Virtual Experience.


Even before COVID-19 struck, Common Threads engaged in advocacy work to support nutrition education, food access and adjacent issues impacting children and families. In total, Common Threads signed on to 53 advocacy initiatives (51 percent of which were SNAP or school meals related), joined several Twitter chats, and successfully placed an opinion piece from Linda Novick O’Keefe in The Miami Herald to advocate for enhancements to SNAP.

Panel Discussions:

Common Threads leveraged the proliferation of virtual programming to offer two panel discussions aimed at creating a dialogue around contemporary public health issues. In August, Common Threads convened four Black physicians to speak about social determinants of health, and in September, experts in policy, education, health and food distribution participated in the “Beyond the Classroom” panel discussion, highlighting how organizations continued to serve their constituents following COVID-19.

Reaching Families During an Unprecedented Time

The COVID-19 pandemic required organizations like Common Threads to think differently about its work and outcomes. Nutrition education became even more important at a time when more families faced food insecurity and key components, including the food industry, school districts and nonprofit organizations faced significant disruption. Common Threads continued its mission in a new way, reaching more than 47,000 total participants through its cooking and nutrition education program in the past program year.

Response to COVID-19

  • Our Family Meals Initiative led to collaboration with 23 local restaurant and grocery partners in six cities, which distributed 45,933 meals and snacks provided to 15,565 students and family memberships.
  • The organization launched five new virtual programs to reach participants safely in their homes, reaching 2,555 child and adult participants solely with digital programs

Web visits of online recipes, videos, and other resources

Views of video library, of videos including 30 new English videos and 30 videos in Spanish

New recipes added including 40 in Spanish, and new professional food photography to accompany 345 recipes


During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine continued offering Cooking Up Health (CUH), a culinary medicine course for 1st year medical students, through remote learning Zoom cook-along classes. Students in this elective course received gift cards to purchase groceries and lists with required ingredients and equipment. Consistent with previous year’s outcomes from in-person courses, students in the virtual class increased their confidence in their nutrition care & obesity counseling and in cooking and food preparation skills, which were statistically significant results as measured by pre-post research design. One student commented:

“I think the virtual experience of actually doing the cooking in our own kitchens with equipment we have makes me more apt to cook those same recipes/techniques again than it would if the cooking had been done elsewhere”.

(Source: Comparable Efficacy of a Virtual Culinary Medicine Elective for Medical Students, Melinda Ring, Elaine Cheung, Amrien Ghouse, Rupa Mahadevan)

Baylor College of Medicine researchers successfully conducted a qualitative research study with parents and children to help Common Threads learn more about adult and child perspectives on healthy eating. In 2020, they published manuscripts with key research findings and Common Threads co-authored on these publications.

  • Children: Culinary education programs for children in low-income households: A scoping review, Authors: Priscilla Li, Guisela Mackey, Chishinga Callender, Jayna Dave, Norma Olvera, Shana Alford, Debbe Thompson
  • Nutrients: How Minority Parents Could Help Children Develop Healthy Eating Behaviors: Parent and Child Perspectives, Authors: Chishinga Callender, Denisse Velazquez, Meheret Adera, Jayna M. Dave, Norma Olvera, Tzu-An Chen, Shana Alford, Debbe Thompson


Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) principles have been a cornerstone of Common Threads’ mission since the organization was founded in 2003. At a time when Muslims, Arab-Americans and other minority groups were facing discrimination following 9/11, Common Threads co-founders Art Smith, Jesus Salgueiro and Linda Novick O’Keefe created Common Threads to encourage children and families to celebrate the world around them through the exploration of food and customs from different countries.

Common Threads has long seen racism as a public health concern, and has prioritized communities of color as it builds its educational programs to improve community health. The increased calls for racial justice created an inflection point for nonprofit organizations, and Common Threads staff overwhelmingly embraced this movement as a time to better connect our work to our communities.

Following the death of George Floyd, Common Threads offered its staff a paid holiday as a “Day of Remembrance,” providing resources to encourage staff to learn more about current social justice issues through community service or research. Staff also participated in the 21-Day Racial Equity and Social Justice Challenge presented by the YWCA South Florida, along with a series of professional development sessions and “coffee chats” led by industry experts.

The organization’s strategic plan was refreshed to consider additional DEI principles. The Community Impact pillar, an area that conveys best practices in health and education, was refined to consider the new realities our communities are facing today. Diversity, equity and inclusion principles have also been adopted as a unified component of the Organizational Health pillar, which was enhanced with additional initiatives in recruitment, training and staff engagement.

“Our work to create inclusive educational programs has never been more critical,” said Common Threads Co-founder and CEO Linda Novick O’Keefe. “Following the events of the past year, we must commit to listening to the voices who for so long have not been heard, to using our voices to inspire change, and to creating safe spaces for children and families to learn, live, work and play. We all must be part of the solution.”

Brand Identity

Common Threads spent the summer months going through a bit of a facelift with its brand identity, thanks to support from Catchafire (through the Annenberg Foundation), Upwork and Walmart Foundation.

Up first, the team undertook a refresh of its graphic identity through pro bono help from Catchafire. Lilian Santini from The Copper Portico in Miami was selected as the consultant to take on this work, refreshing the organization’s logo, color scheme and typography. This work set the foundation for a rebuild of to reflect this new look and new brand messaging, which was possible thanks to support from Walmart Foundation. Additionally, the team secured a grant from Upwork, allowing it to bring in fresh images and videos, including “Yum Academy” recipe videos for YouTube (available in English and Spanish) from Miro Calderon and new food photography from Laura Heineman to accompany our nutritious cultural recipes on Common Bytes.

“Our team has been busy bringing this new brand identity to life with some really incredible creative partners,” said Jordan Fickess, vice president of communications & culture. “So much of our work is digital these days and we are grateful to have had the resources to breathe new life into our dynamic brand.”


Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas

“The health and nutrition programs your organization offers are so informative and essential to all individuals in our diverse community.”  – Carolyn Yañez | Community Partners Director

Belmont Cragin Elementary School

“First off, I just want to say how awesome this experience was for our junior master chefs and their families. The skills, recipes, and bonds made will last forever. With that being said, it was a lot of work to make it run smoothly. I would love to apply for more grants and run this program or a program like it again. There is a lot of interest among our families to continue healthy cooking and ones who would like to sign up for the first time. Knowing that Common Threads has partnered up with a catering company is great news! I would be more than happy to continue to facilitate a virtual program at our school.” – Justin Platzner | Teacher

Brooklyn Green School

“I am beyond grateful for my partnership with Common Threads. This is our second year working together and I can’t thank them enough for the education and knowledge they share with our scholars. I’m a firm believer in the quote A zip code should not determine a child’s future and the work that’s being done by Common Threads helps to bridge those gaps in underserved communities. This year we are providing our scholars with Virtual Cooking lessons and the Small Bites curriculum. We are also providing workshops to our families. SO EXCITING!!!” – Sasha Roopchand | Physical Education/Health Education Teacher

Finances Fiscal Year 2020

(Unaudited, January 1 – September 30, 2020)

View Unaudited Common Threads – Financial Statements Sept 2020


January 1 – September 30, 2020

BANQUET ($500K+)

Office of Temporary & Disability Assistance

Texas Health and Human Services Commission

3-COURSE MEAL ($150K+)



Entrée ($25K)




City National Bank, An RBC Company

Dr. Scholl Foundation

Griffith Foods



Nora Roberts

NYC Council Member Lancman’s Office

Northwestern Medicine

Ocean Reef Community Foundation

The Russell Group

The Venable Foundation

BITES ($500+)


Ariel Investments, LLC

Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Illinois

Brandsma Family Foundation

Capitol Hill Community Foundation

Chicago Magazine

E.J. Mullins Co., Inc.

Elevate Wellness

Goldman Sachs


HealthFirst Pharmacy

Hecker and Company Inc.

Irv & Shelly’s Fresh Picks

Jackson National Asset Management

John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Judd A. & Marjorie Weinberg Family Foundation

M2 Strategy

MagMile Crossfit

Navy Pier


Ortega Family Fund at The Miami Foundation

PepsiCo Foundation

Rooted Dental

Sasha Adler Design

Sethness Family Foundation

Stoller Imports

United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania

Wells Fargo – Miami

Woodridge Clinic

Individual Donors

January 1 – September 30, 2020
$10,000 +

Neil Cotty

Lori McGee


Tres Bailey

Sarita Dandamudi Rao


Elizabeth Avery

Ellen & Jon Bortz

Joyce Brayboy

Angie Cooper

Anne Curry

Jennifer Hatcher

Kelly Moran

Amanda Nuñez

Marissa Pines & Jared Berman

Ryan Roman

Fergus Rooney

Lee Stuck

Brad Tully


Patricia & Jorge Azze

Win Blodgett

Dan Christenson

Jennifer Einersen & David B. Fernandez

Stephanie Folkens

Claudia Keller

Irini Kolaitis

Julie & Joe Koziol

Virginia & Jed Miracle

Quentin Misenheimer

Linda Novick O’Keefe & Nick O’Keefe

Priyanka Patel

Thomas Petty

Javier Ramirez

Tyson Redpath

Christopher Sanz

Geoffrey Tully

Kathleen & Paul Tully

Ashley Webb

Neal Zucker


Cristina Antelo

Whitney Beaver

Janelle Benjamin

Lori & Matt Dunnigan

Jordan Fickess

James Gignac

Elizabeth Halle

Bradley Hasemeyer

Courtney Kattler

John Kolaski

David Lanster

Anita Lo

Taylor Lustig

Joe Madison

Javier Martinez

Erin Mynaugh

Brandon Rose

Christopher Tully

Ariane Williams

National & Regional Boards

January 1 – September 30, 2020
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

Tony Jimenez | Vice Chair

Jennifer Einersen | Secretary

Geoffrey Tully | Treasurer

Jorge Azze

Karen Barofsky

Rochelle Gapere

Hector Gutierrez

Elizabeth Halle

David Lanster

Kelly Moran

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

January 1 – September 30, 2020
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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Miami, Florida

Chicago, Illinois

New York

Washington DC

      • 522 people reached
      • “Common Threads is about so much more than just cooking. It’s rewarding to see chefs-in-training have fun while they learn about nutrition, food safety, and the cuisines and food cultures of other countries. Plus, the chef’s toques we get to wear are really cool!” – Joe Blount, (Alexandria, VA)


    Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

      • 556 people reached
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  • Erie, Pennsylvania

        • 387 people reached
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      Dallas/Fort Worth

        • 2,272 people reached
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    • San Antonio

          • 6,262 people reached
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          • 6646 people reached
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      El Paso

          • 5896 people reached
          • “Small Bites is an easy to use resource that helps open up the nutritional unit into any physical education or health curriculum. During COVID-19, Common Threads’ virtual curriculum has been helpful because it has been so easy to integrate, and the lessons are simple and interesting.” – Lonny Nava, Physical Education Teacher (El Paso, TX)


          • 2974 people reached
          • “Thank you from the bottom of my heart and from all of our families for making such a difference in Del Valle ISD! We are so proud to have such an awesome program in the district and thankful that your teams put in so much time and effort to make the open house at Popham Elementary School a success. It was an investment in our community which we cannot thank you enough for.” – Lauren Ivey Muniz (Austin, TX)

      Los Angeles, California

          • 2,772 people reached
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