Story and Video by Jennie Trejo. Photos provided by Toast for Charity.
Dallas Doing Good has had the privilege of partnering with the Communities Foundation of Texas for North Texas Giving Day over the past few years, but this year, we are doing it Texas BIG. It is the 15th anniversary of the largest community giving event in the nation, so we have selected 15 organizations to highlight leading up to Giving Day on September 21. Early giving kicked off on September 1.
Dr. Lamar Quinn was first drawn to Dallas to pursue a job opportunity as a pharmacist with Walgreens near Fair Park. While there, he witnessed the vibrant community, the resilience of its people, and the potential for change. It was this connection that ignited his desire to get involved and make a difference.
“I just fell in love with the community,” Lamar says. “You have the customers coming into the pharmacy, and I love speaking with them. Then, you have the kids running and playing– I started to see myself in them– running and playing in the South Side of Chicago. I saw that there was a need, so I wanted to get involved and find a solution for it.”
Lamar’s solution is Toast for Charity, a nonprofit he co-founded with his wife in 2015. It is a remarkable organization whose primary goal is to unlock opportunities for children of color. Through a handful of different initiatives, they pave the path to success for young minds all over Southern Dallas.
The “ReadySet Read” program is a cornerstone of their efforts. This initiative aims to ignite a love for reading within the youth by providing access to books, mentorship, and positive role models. Volunteers read to children in various community settings, fostering an environment where kids can see themselves in those who read to them.
“We know the power of literacy, and we want to spark a love for reading,” Lamar says. “We know love is foundational as well, and we want to be able to provide that when reading to our kids.”
They discovered many parents faced a common challenge: finding the time to read to their children. The team asked themselves, “How can we fill this gap?” Their answer was to partner with local institutions such as Park South YMCA. By doing so, they could reach children in places they already frequented, making it easier for both parents and kids to engage in reading.
Another community partner Toast for Charity has is the Pan African Connection Bookstore. A few Saturdays each month from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., there are reading sessions. Kids get to pick out a book for themselves and have two books read to them.
“We want to focus on out-of-school-time reading because reading should be an everyday thing,” Lamar says. “Hopefully, that turns into those kids learning how to read, then reading to learn, and ultimately being on grade level by third or fourth grade.”
Toast for Charity does not just focus on the little ones– they also have programs for high school-aged students. Enter “The M.A.D. Pitch Competition,” which is an acronym for “Making a Difference.” This initiative empowers high school juniors and seniors to pitch ideas on how to positively impact their communities using technology, education, or social innovation.
Beyond financial support for college or vocational training, this program nurtures a sense of community responsibility. It encourages young minds to think about how they can contribute to the betterment of their neighborhoods, closing the gap between success and service.
“We are empowering kids and also giving them financial support,” Lamar explains. “We know about student debt and what that does to the wealth divide. But this competition is also about amplifying their voices, because these kids are phenomenal.”
Lamar says their goal is to get the youth talking about community, and how to build community.
“Nobody really talks about this in a way that includes our youth,” Lamar elaborates. “We want these kids to exit these communities, but we also want them to come back and make a difference.”
Through all of Toast for Charity’s programs, there is no shortage of joy, excitement, and just plain old fun– even The M.A.D. Pitch Competition is set up as a game show with flashing lights, confetti, and grand prizes.
The name “Toast for Charity” may sound like a celebration, and that’s precisely what it is. The organization’s unique name was born from an event that was initially called “Toast for Charity,” designed to be a one-time occasion. However, Lamar and his team quickly realized that this name resonated deeply with their mission. It wasn’t just about a party; it was about making an impact, and thus, Toast for Charity officially came into being.
What sets Toast for Charity apart is its approach to philanthropy. Lamar understands the importance of making charitable work engaging and approachable. Their events, like the “Party with a Purpose” and the “Giving from the Sole” event, showcase how giving back can be a joyful and vibrant experience. By blending entertainment and philanthropy, they inspire a new generation of difference-makers who are culturally connected and motivated to make a positive change.
Lamar’s journey from Chicago to Dallas is a testament to the transformative power of community engagement. Not only is he engaging with the youth across the southern sector of his city, but he is also engaging his millennial peers and getting them involved.
“It’s amazing how it has transformed so many different parts of our community,” Lamar says. “We want to illuminate the path for the kids, but it goes beyond that. It’s also the young adults, the business owners, the elderly, and individuals who have a heart to give back. It is so much more than what you see on paper.”