When tragic crime struck two neighboring Atlanta businesses last week, leaving a shop owner dead and a community in shock, residents turned to food to raise spirits and help survivors.
The result was a crowd-sourced bake sale to benefit one of the affected businesses, Sugar Coated Radical, a self-described "libertine confection shop" that has earned national press for creating "honest" chocolate from organic, fairly traded and locally sourced raw materials.
The event, also known as a "cash mob," drew hundreds of well-wishers on Sunday who bought baked goods to help the business recoup money lost in a robbery. Other small businesses donated coffee for sale and a food truck from which to sell the surplus of baked goods prepared by Sugar Coated Radical. Volunteers staffed the cash register.
The break-in happened hours after the owner of Banna Grocery, a convenience store in the same building, was shot to death in an apparent robbery, police said. It was a double whammy in a neighborhood struggling to move beyond a reputation for violent crime. Once known as the birthplace of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the Old Fourth Ward fell on hard times in the late 20th century. The last decade or so has brought a wave of urban renewal with the restoration of homes and openings of restaurants and small businesses like Banna Grocery and Sugar Coated Radical, but every so often, thefts and homicides disturb the peace.
Flowers and stuffed animals adorn the locked storefront of the popular neighborhood convenience store, but the community wanted to do more. The owner of Banna Grocery, 48-year-old Suhrid Das, had no family in Atlanta, so friends and fans of Sugar Coated Radical decided to direct their efforts to helping Camerino and her family.
"It's not that we don't feel bad for the other store owner, but we didn't feel we could do much to help his situation," said Michaela Graham, who has worked with Sugar Coated Radical at pop-up food events throughout the city. "We knew we could help Sugar Coated Radical in the sense that she was one of ours, she had helped me and others in the Atlanta food community before and this was our way of doing something for her in a time of need."
Graham estimated 600 people showed up at Sunday's event, which benefited from warm, sunny weather that kept people lingering outside the shop for hours.
The event drew devotees of Camerino's decadent chocolate truffles and lollies, which were on sale alongside other goodies that Camerino spent the entire night preparing, such as crème brulee tarts and hardboiled egg brioche.
Others, meanwhile, learned about Sugar Coated Radical through news of the break-ins.
"Attending was a no-brainer. My husband and I have lived downtown for 20 years and do what we can to support downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods," said Paula Joerling. "We both love the Old Fourth Ward and were devastated to hear of the shooting and break-ins. We had never been to Sugar Coated Radical before but were fans on Facebook and knew that we had to go and lend support."
Not long after Camerino opened the tiny shop to the public around 9 a.m., dozens of people were queued up down the block. By roughly 1:30 p.m., all the food was gone - some 900 pastries and dozens of boxes of truffles and chocolate lollies.
"I was held up at work a long time ago and now I'm a mom with two boys about the same age, so the story hit an emotional resonance I wasn't expecting," said attendee Audrey Foon, who learned of the robbery and bake sale through a friend who lives near Sugar Coated Radical. "I don't know what they'll do; it's hard to recover from a trauma like that. But even if they don't reopen there, they deserved the outpouring of support."
Others who already knew of Sugar Coated Radical learned about the cash mob through a Facebook event that Graham set up Thursday morning, just hours after the break-in.
"It was amazing how quickly an event page popped up and REALLY heartening to see how many Atlanta businesses were promoting it," said makeup artist Andrea Carter, who promoted the event on her Facebook business page.
Carter said she decided to attend to support people whose work she believed in, especially since they had just gone through one of the most traumatic experiences she could imagine.
"I've only met Taria and Ashley [Henson, partner in the business] once on a previous Bakery Sunday, but they were so warm and kind; they talked my ear off about sourcing their insanely delicious chocolate and I loved every second of it. They LOVE what they do, and that fact's instantly apparent to anyone who meets them," she said in an e-mail.
"Thanks to the ethical and sustainable practices that Taria so passionately incorporates into her business, she's proving that the bottom line is not just about earning money - it's about finding balance and demonstrating that positive, incremental change IS possible and viable. Supporting fair trade and locally sourced ingredients by buying delicious - and seriously radical - pastry? That's a no-brainer."
Camerino said she was exhausted but elated on Sunday as she stood outside her store, greeting well-wishers and patiently answering reporters' questions. She hadn't slept since the robbery.
"Today's been a roller coaster of emotions. I am humbled and tired. It's been an interesting experience to watch this tragedy wake people up," she said.
"I've been too scared, too numb to rest or eat," she said. "But after today, I'm ready to sleep."
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