By Caroline Fossi
Charlotte Park harnesses the power of social networking to fuel her passions for food, community building and helping others.
Though she’s a relative newcomer to Charleston, she has already made an impact on the local dining scene through her culinary social media club, TastemakersCHS.
She also raises money for local charities by selling homemade baked goods via her nonprofit, Crumbs4Charleston.
The Michigan native credits a deep-rooted faith as inspiration for her “passion projects.”
“I wanted to do something for my faith,” says Charlotte, 27, a member of Seacoast Church in Mount Pleasant. “Christianity fueled me to do both of these things.”
Charlotte moved to the Lowcountry in 2013 after visiting Charleston with a college friend. The Holy City made quite an impression on her.
“I fell head-over-heels in love with it,” she recalls.
By day, Charlotte works as an account supervisor for public relations agency Lou Hammond Group. The die-hard foodie got a taste of the city’s dynamic culinary landscape through her work with restaurant clients and the Greater Charleston Restaurant Association.
She launched TastemakersCHS in 2016 as a way to share insights into the Charleston area food scene, enlisting a mix of local food bloggers and influencers to help spread the word. Through social media, the club highlights local spots worth adding to your “culinary bucket list.”
“We’re fostering a community of people with a passion for food,” Charlotte says.
Twice a month, members meet to try out various restaurants and watering holes. The establishments typically offer select dishes for free, family style, for the group to sample. The diners then share their experiences and mouth-watering photos on social media, including the club’s blog and Instagram account.
“People are going to Instagram to figure out where to eat,” Park explains. The photo-sharing site “is such a powerful platform. We use that reach for greater impact.”
Since its inception, TastemakersCHS has grown from seven to 30 members, who have visited more than 30 eating and drinking spots, ranging from The CODFather, a fish and chips joint in North Charleston, to Le Farfalle, a regional Italian restaurant in downtown Charleston.
Recently, the club kicked off a charity partnership program that pairs featured restaurants with local nonprofits. Through the initiative, participating dining spots give a portion of sales to a select charity during a set time period. During one week in June, for instance, Mount Pleasant restaurant On Forty One donated $1 from every Moscow Mule cocktail and smoked pork chop sold to the Dee Norton Child Advocacy Center, raising about $250 for the group.
“This gives the community a chance to give back, too,” Charlotte says.
Seeking another way to benefit local causes, Park headed for her own kitchen. An avid baker, she started selling her creations through a new nonprofit, Crumbs4Charleston. Since launching in February 2017, her customer base has grown to about 130 people. Many purchase the goodies as gifts or for celebrations. All of the proceeds go to charity, minus the cost of ingredients. Charlotte whips up orders in her James Island apartment, then hand-delivers them on Sundays.
On occasion, she donates her treats to special events, like the 250 pink lemonade doughnuts she made for a Trident Literacy Association luncheon in March. She’s also considering selling her baked goods at local pop-up events in the future.
Charlotte’s goal is not just to raise money for good causes, but also to raise awareness of charities that might not be well-known in the community, or don’t have large marketing budgets to promote their services.
“I use the power of social media to give back,” she says.
Every two months, Charlotte offers a new selection of baked goods for sale on the Crumbs4Charleston website. She seeks out recipes you typically won’t find at grocery stores or local bakeries, like cookie dough-stuffed cupcakes, cake batter fudge, and Thin Mint doughnuts. Sometimes, she’ll concoct seasonal specialties, such as Lucky Charms Rice Krispie treats around St. Patrick’s Day. Prices range from $15 to $20 per dozen, with sales benefiting a designated charity.
So far, the baking venture has brought in more than $3,000 for groups including homeless shelter One80Place, East Cooper Meals on Wheels, and Fields to Families.
In September and October, Charlotte raised money for A21-Charleston Heart for Freedom, where she’s also a volunteer. The local group supports A21, an international organization working to end human trafficking.
“Charlotte has been amazing,” says Julie Todaro, director of the local A21 team. “She’s just got a heart of gold.”
Julie credits Charlotte with raising awareness of A21 in the community and on social media.
“She’s gotten (our group) more likes and followers than I ever would have,” Julie says. “She’s just gifted in that networking piece.”
In November and December, Charlotte will be selling pumpkin cream cheese bundt cakes, candy cane fudge and bacon maple brittle. Proceeds benefit Fresh Future Farm, an urban farm and grocery store in North Charleston. Order by Friday for delivery on Sunday. Visit crumbs4charleston.com for more information.