Sherry Villanueva has connected the dots between nutritious produce, volunteerism and entrepreneurship while she’s busy managing Acme Hospitality.
The Lark, Lucky Penny, Loquita and Santa Barbara Wine Collective, Les Marchands Wine Bar & Merchant, Notary Public and Helena Avenue Bakery are the food and beverage concepts in the Santa Barbara Funk Zone under Acme’s management.
Beyond work, Villanueva, a managing partner with Acme has made philanthropy a priority.
“I look for organizations that can make a change and a big contribution by using their resources wisely,” Villanueva said. “I want to align myself with an organization that has a level of efficiency.”
Charitable giving is also an activity that involves the entire Villanueva family — her two daughters and husband.
“We have been committed to working with both our local and global community,” Villanueva said. “We want to try and give what we can and make change.”
The Villanueva family has completed more than 30 service trips together to places in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Bolivia and Zambia.
In 1996, when Villanueva’s children were 4 and 6 years old, the family took a service trip to Tijuana, Mexico.
Spending Thanksgiving week building houses for poor families in the Tijuana area has been a tradition for the family for about 15 years.
“I love having a local footprint in the nonprofit community,” Villanueva said. “I also like having a foot planted in the larger world and on an international level where the need is extreme.”
In 2003, the family took a service trip with Direct Relief International and rode their bikes 350 miles through the Andes Mountains to the Amazon basin to raise funds for the Rio Beni Health Project.
Villanueva’s focus as a solo volunteer included board positions with Storyteller Children’s Center, Direct Relief International, Santa Barbara Middle School and the Foundation for Santa Barbara High School.
“I tend to gravitate toward women and children,” she said. “Maybe it’s the mother in me. I serve from my heart and want to help with organizations that are directly helping women and children.”
Also, she is a founding board member of Community Action Fund for Women in Africa, which helps women in Northern Uganda.
“That program is extraordinary and a grassroots program,” Villanueva said. “It provides core education and job training skills for women. It empowers women by teaching them how to read, write and job skills.”
She has found a way to mix her work passion with nonprofits.
Her most recent involvement has been with the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County.
“We have enjoyed being partners,” Villanueva said. “It’s a great way to build camaraderie, teamwork and having everybody working to contribute back to the community at the same time.”
At the Foodbank’s annual Table of Life Gala fundraising event, cooking demonstrations and education about local level farm products are included.
“It’s an educational event around high-quality food,” Villanueva said. “It’s an effort to help people understand the quality of food coming out of the Foodbank is first-rate. We want to support their impact as a company.”
Acme has donated the Pullman Room at The Lark restaurant for fundraising events for the Foodbank.
The communal tables have been the gathering place for guests, sponsors and Foodbank board members.
One of The Lark’s chefs does a food demonstration and creates hors d’oeuvres paired with matching ingredients.
“Guests are typically delighted and surprised by the food quality,” said Matthew Neal, Foodbank’s director of strategic gifts. “We can be transformed into truly delicious and healthy food.”
Neal said Villanueva was chosen as the nonprofit’s 2015 Table of Life Gala honoree because of her belief that food is medicine.
Villanueva puts into practice ideas that the closer to home food is grown the better, that sustainable family farms provide high-quality produce and that farmers can build good relationships with chefs and restaurateurs, he said.