Entry: I wanted my decor to fit with my theme, but not be depressing. At first, I was going to decorate all in teddy "bears" and play up this homophone, but that seemed too cutesy to go with our activity. I decided instead to mix the two. A shopping cart was donated to my ASB several years ago, so I borrowed that to set outside my entry door. I filled it with blankets, sleeping bags, etc. Across from it, I set out a flattened cardboard box with a giant panda bear (thanks Gracie!). I made a simple sign for the panda to hold inviting guests to enter.
Decor: I set my dining table with some camping tarps as a tablecloth. As a centerpiece, I filled a small shopping cart with washcloths as well as some of the care package items. Next to this, I placed another teddy bear holding a sign that read: "Homeless Let's Help" instead of the general Please Help that you often see on the side of the road. I placed newspaper under it -- the employment section -- for added color and contrast.
As place cards, I made knapsacks out of a scrap of fabric and a pencil. I filled the inside of the fabric square with Thanksgiving M&Ms, tied the ends of the fabric together in a knot to create the sack, and slid a new pencil in (writing side down so it didn't show). To add the name to each pencil, I used by Cricut machine to cut letters and then glued them on.
To keep with the theme, the menu card was a piece of cardboard with the menu written in black marker. The wine bottles were wrapped in paper bags. I tied the tops with a burgundy ribbon for the red wine and a white ribbon for the white wine.
On the table we used for assembling the care packages, I used a sleeping bag as my tablecloth. I set out another bear, this one holding a sign that read "We Care Packages". Another small shopping cart held the cards (see Activity section below).
Our good friend Josh in Mammoth carves these amazing bears out of wooden logs. This bear was given to us at our wedding years ago. It is engraved with our names at the bottom, and the bear was originally holding fresh flowers when we received it at our reception. He was a perfect addition to my table, and the hole was perfect to stick a skewer with a sign to identify the table. By the way, you should really check out Josh's website to get one of these for your home, Bare in Mind Carvings. We love ours and get so many great comments on it.
Menu: Again, I tried to adapt or fit menu items to the theme. We started with Raspberry Salad with Candied Almonds. Yummy! The salad consisted of mixed greens, feta cheese, whole raspberries, and candied almonds. It was served with a raspberry vinaigrette. To make the candied almonds, I used 3 tablespoons sugar with a half cup of almonds. In a non-stick skillet, heat on medium heat 6-8 minutes, or until sugar forms a golden brown syrup and coats almonds.
For the main dish, I made individual Chicken Pot Pies, but shaped them like knapsacks. To complete the look, I stuck a wooden chopstick through the top and tied a small strip of fabric around the end. Although my pot pies included carrots and peas inside, I decided to serve green beans with it as well. To make the knapsacks, I made the dough and then cut it into 6"x6" squares. These squares I filled with the chicken mixture before folding the edges in. Here is the recipe for the inside mixture:
Chicken Pot Pie
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
Freshly ground pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup frozen peans
1 1/2 cups cubed or shredded cooked chicken (I got mine pre-cooked from Costco)
Melt butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. Cook the onions, carrots, and celery with salt and pepper to taste, until the carrots soften, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme and cook an additional minute, stirring frequently. Add the flour and cook off the raw flavor, about 1 more minute. Turn up the heat to medium-high and deglaze the pan with the wine. Which in the stock and Dijon mustard. Add the peas and chicken and cook on a very low simmer until the sauce thickens up into a gravy, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
For dessert, I served Strawberry Pie with whipped cream. The best thing about this entire dinner was that I made almost everything the day before, so I actually had a chance to visit with my guests during this dinner rather than spending all my time in the kitchen preparing the meal.
Activity: As I stated above, this theme was centered around the creation of Care Packages to help the homeless in our community. I asked each guest to sign up to bring 20 of one or two items on the care package list. I then bought gallon size Ziplock bags to hold all the items. The items I asked guests to bring were:
Toothbrush and toothpaste
Packages of Tissues
Pair of Socks
One of the girls even typed up a list of local shelters in Orange County, and she brought single-day bus passes that we attached to several.
I also crafted a small note card for each guest to write a message of their choice before placing into the bag. The girls seemed to like this addition. (If you'd like a copy email me.)
When filled, the idea of these bags it to place them in your car, so it is handy the next time you encounter someone in need. Each guest left with two full bags ready to give out to others.
This was a great party, and we all enjoyed putting these bags together. The feedback I have received from the guests and the stories they've shared when they gave a bag away makes me smile.