gmhTODAY Fall 2021 October-December 2021 - Page 28

Rebuilding Community :

Garlic Leads the Way

by Jordan Rosenfeld and Mike Sanchez / Photos by Tony Scotino

Living in Gilroy , or just passing through , the sweet and sometimes powerful smell hits you like a warm blanket , or ton of bricks , depending on your tolerance . For locals , garlic in the air defines home — a small tight knit community where everyone knows everyone . Here volunteerism and supporting local non-profit organizations to make the community better is simply a way of life . That sweet smelling bulb represents and provides for that way of life .

Garlic is food . Garlic is flavor . Garlic is sustenance .
While the love of garlic may not be unanimous , it is profound . In Gilroy , garlic is the “ spice of life .” Each year , hundreds of thousands of festivalgoers agree , as evidenced by their pilgrimage to the little town at the edge of Silicon Valley to celebrate the “ stinking rose .”
Since 1979 garlic has been center stage and the backbone of the community . When Don Christopher , Rudy Malone , and Val Filice joined forces to host the first Gilroy Garlic Festival , they had a vision to leverage the love of garlic to give back to the community by supporting Gilroy ’ s non-profit sector . In the years since , the annual festival has donated over 12 million dollars to local organizations . During that time Christopher Ranch — now in its third generation of leadership — has become the nation ’ s leader in garlic production .
The Christopher name is synonymous with philanthropy . Gilroy ’ s second high school , which bears the family name , was built upon land they donated . From annual scholarships for graduating high school seniors and grants to local non-profits , to donating countless tons of garlic products to community organizations , Don Christopher has established a family legacy of generous giving and community support . It ’ s a legacy that his grandson , Ken Christopher , executive vice president of Christopher Ranch , is proud to carry on .
After facing tragedy in 2019 , and the global pandemic and economic shutdown in 2020 , the Garlic Festival Association pivoted in 2021 , making a noble comeback by creating a drive-thru Gourmet Alley over two weekends . The effort was successful in keeping the festival alive in the hearts of a grateful community . While hope remains high for a full festival comeback in the future , a void exists for many non-profit organizations who no longer can raise much needed funds through volunteering at the festival .
Ken feels the loss of the festival in recent years profoundly . In the festival ’ s absence , he and his team have strived to fill the gaps in the best way they know how — by showing up for the community .
They began with a Summer of Garlic event , launched this summer at Christopher High . “ Over forty volunteers came out to offer Gilroy Garlic Festival style food for all of the graduates ,” Christopher said . “ Being able to give these kids that have had the worst year one almost normal day , where they can enjoy all the flavors of the community , was amazing .” In addition , they offered every volunteer who participated in the event $ 250 to direct toward a local non-profit organization of their choosing . Over 15 local organizations benefitted from six-thousand dollars donated from the one-day event .
Then , feeling empathy for what children suffered in their lost year-plus of school , he had “ a wild idea ” to make
28 FALL 2021 gmhTODAY Magazine gmhtoday . com