Fundraising in Good Taste:
Homewood Band Mom’s Pimento Cheese Will Help Fund Trip to Pasadena
By Keysha Drexel
When the Homewood High School Band was invited to perform in the 125th Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year’s Day, band parents and school officials immediately began to wonder where the money would come from to send the more than 350-member band to Pasadena, Calif., in January 2014.
Fundraising efforts started springing up and inspired one Homewood mom to whip up a way to raise money in her kitchen.
Holly Simmons, whose 15-year-old daughter Dorothy Pate Simmons is a percussionist in the band, has spent the summer making and selling Parade Pimento Cheese to raise money for the trip to the Tournament of Roses Parade.
“I saw a couple of girls in the band selling brownies in the neighborhood, and that gave me the idea to try to sell my pimento cheese,” Simmons said. “I’d been making pimento cheese and giving it as gifts for years and it was always well received, so I thought it might work for raising money for the trip.”
Simmons ran the idea by her daughter, who was less than enthusiastic about the idea at first.
“I thought it would crash and burn,” Dorothy Pate said. “I really didn’t think people would buy it.”
Undaunted by her daughter’s grim outlook for the fledgling venture, Simmons started making small batches of the pimento cheese recipe she had used for years.
“I found the recipe six or seven years ago and just kind of tweaked it to make it my own,” she said. “It starts with freshly-grated white cheddar and onion, and I use roasted red peppers instead of pimento.”
Her first foray into selling the pimento cheese was at her son Will’s soccer game.
“I was literally walking around the sidelines at the soccer game with a tray of pimento cheese spread on crackers,” Holly said. “The dads kept coming back for another bite, and I sold out everything I had made in a few hours.”
A friend who tried the pimento cheese suggested Simmons take her venture to the local farmers markets. Simmons investigated the possibilities, and she and Dorothy Pate started setting up a tent to sell the Parade Pimento Cheese at the farmers market at The Summit.
“My son, Will, came up with the idea of adding ‘Homemade in Homewood’ to the label, and our dear friend Lynn Smith designed the label for us,” Simmons said.
Simmons said her husband, Richard, and her oldest son, Dixon, also helped bring the fundraising project to life.
“It truly was a family effort,” Simmons said.
Another friend, Steve Mistrot, printed signs and business cards for Parade Pimento Cheese, and soon Simmons had her product at Andy’s Market on Rocky Ridge Road in addition to selling it at The Summit farmers market.
Soon, the pimento cheese will be available at the Freshfully Market in Avondale, Simmons said.
“It’s been really incredible how it has taken off,” she said. “I’m still blown away that I have repeat customers that aren’t related to me.”
Making and selling the pimento cheese has been quite an education for her, Simmons said.
“I had no idea that you couldn’t just whip something up in your kitchen and start selling it,” she said. “I learned a lot through the process of getting all the licenses and paperwork I needed to get this off the ground.”
Now, Simmons rents commercial kitchen space from the owner of Icing on the Cookie to make batches of the Parade Pimento Cheese.
“So many people have supported this. Pete Flach helped us get the containers, and Shelby Adams has graciously opened up space in the kitchen of Icing on the Cookie. It’s been very humbling,” Simmons said.
Once Simmons started producing more and more of the product, it was up to Dorothy Pate to help market and sell it.
As a band member who has marched in a wool uniform on humid Friday nights, Dorothy Pate is no stranger to sweating it out to support the band.
“It definitely wasn’t the way she wanted to spend her summer–outside in the hot sun selling pimento cheese–but she’s been a real trooper about it because it is for something she loves–the band,” Simmons said. “She’s confessed to me that it was actually pretty fun.”
Simmons said the venture has also allowed her and her husband to teach their three children some important life lessons.
“This particular one for Dorothy Pate is that money doesn’t grow on trees,” Simmons said. “There are multiple ways to finance extracurricular activities, and sometimes you have to be super creative.”
Simmons said she also wanted her daughter involved in the fundraiser because it will give her “some ownership in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” of being able to perform at the Rose Bowl and in the Tournament of Roses Parade.
The Tournament of Roses Parade is viewed by more than 5 million people in more than 200 countries each year. The Homewood High School band has performed in the parade three times before, most recently in 2009.
With that kind of track record of being invited to perform in the prestigious event, Simmons is betting that her younger son will also be trying to fund his own trip to Pasadena one day.
“I’m in this for the long haul. I have another child who will be in the band, and with any luck, the band will get invited back to the Rose Bowl and we’ll already have a fundraiser in place,” Simmons said.
And while she said making and selling Parade Pimento Cheese has sparked her entrepreneurial spirit, Simmons said for the moment, she’s just focusing on getting her daughter to the New Year’s Day parade.
“As long as people keep coming back for more–people I don’t know and am not related to–then I will pursue it,” she said.
Simmons said it will cost about $1,800 each for members of the band to make the trip to California for the parade.
“I think the community is really behind every effort to get the kids out there for this huge honor, and that feels great,” she said.
R. Scott Jenkins, president of the 125th Tournament of Roses Parade, will visit Homewood Aug. 28-31 and plans to speak at the March to the Roses Gala slated for Aug. 29 at Rosewood Hall in Homewood.
The goal of the gala is to raise $75,000 to fund the trip.
Dorothy Pate and other members of the band’s drum line will perform at the gala.
For more information on Parade Pimento Cheese, email Simmons at email@example.com.