You would probably never guess that the founder of Dayton’s biggest pancake brunch needed help from Bob Evans restaurant to make her very first pancake.
It’s true. Jan Venkayya of Beavercreek, the founder of Day of Caring, tells us she learned a few tricks about pancake making from the manager of a local Bob Evans.
Venkayya founded the grassroots organization Day of Caring in 1991 with the commitment of “increasing personal awareness and involvement toward confronting the ever-increasing national plight of hunger and homelessness.”
Today, Day of Caring is headquartered in Beavercreek and the organization’s main event is the annual DOC Pancake Brunch to raise money for local charity organizations. On the very first Day of Caring Brunch Day, 12 sites in the Dayton area served brunch and raised $8,000 for the Montgomery County Hunger and Housing Coalitions. Fast forward to 2012: over 1,000 volunteers dedicated their time to raise over $44,000.
This year’s event included more than 40 participating locations across the region.
Venkayya moved from India to Buffalo, New York, in 1966. However, after her husband moved his career to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in 1967, the Venkayyas anchored their roots into the Dayton community.
Switching from the chaotic city life of Buffalo to Dayton gave Venkayya perspective. “The people are really different here than from Buffalo. They’re more friendly and there’s a lot of different cultures here. This one (Dayton) is more calm and it’s really nice,” Venkayya said.
When she’s not organizing one of Dayton’s biggest charity events year-round, Venkayya dedicates her time to her favorite job, being a grandma to twin teen girls and an 8-month grandson.
Have you always felt like you wanted to be a helpful person? Where does that come from?
My mother was a very generous lady, very kind-hearted. If somebody came to the house for food or something, she would never turn anyone away. People who used to work for us... if they had some problem, she’d feel like it was her problem and take care of them. We just grew up looking at that and maybe it rubbed off. She was actually known for that. She was very talented and very intelligent, but she had the softest spot for the underdog and she would always help.
Why did you start Day of Caring?
I was here and I had my son and my daughter and they were growing up. I wanted to do something. First of all, it was a shock to me that people were poor. This is the richest country in the world and everyone thinks it’s lined with gold on the sidewalk. I saw somebody in a cardboard box and at first I couldn’t believe that anyone would be living there. In india, we grow up with poverty; it’s everywhere. But that’s real poverty, I think. But here, how could it be poverty? It’s so contradictory. So I just wanted to do something to make somebody’s day a little better.
Me helping, I knew it would only go so far. But if I can get like 10 more people, that has a lot more effect. If we work together with those that are in need, we have a common goal. It’s not you and me, it’s us. I used to belong to a Lion’s Club and we did an annual pancake brunch. I enjoyed doing that, so I thought why not have a pancake brunch and invite the community? …The synergy of it all, it just quadrupled I think.
Did you ever imagine Day of Caring getting this big?
No. We wanted to grow but we didn’t know how big it would be. When we started, I’d run around with one piece of paper and ask everybody, ‘Can you please join?!’ And so nobody said no. It was amazing. As we were trying to recruit sites, we went to the Chinese community and said ‘Would you like to join?’ And they said they’d love to, but we don’t know how to make a pancake! Luckily, our office was next to Bob Evans at the time and I went over there and asked, ‘Can you teach us how to make pancakes?’ So the manager came and he couldn’t believe his ears! He came and said ‘Sure we’ll help. So the manager came and taught us how to make pancakes and how much to order, etc. He stayed with us for 10 years, he was tremendous support.
Do you like pancakes?
I don’t eat them every day, but of course!
What do you do on the morning of the brunch?
I just go sample everything. The other board members also go. Plus you can’t eat more than once! We try to go to many locations so we know how it’s going and just to keep in touch.
Has Day of Caring taught you anything surprising about yourself?
The surprise was that whenever I talked about the Day of Caring or doing something for the poor or things like that, people are so open and generous. And that’s a big eye-opener. In India, you wouldn’t have gotten this kind of reception. But here, people are very willing to do things and if they see someone trying to do something, they always want to help. We have the pancake dream team.
With so much divide and polarization going on in the world, what do you think is missing right now?
The community involvement is missing. My vision, I guess, is a community where everybody knows everybody else. You know, if there is an emergency or an accident or something, people rush (to help) but why not we do it without having to rush at the last minute? Not only then, but make it part of our life. If everybody did a few hours a month, you would see a tremendous change in this community. You have no idea how much change we could bring about. Once you start working together, those barriers start to melt away.
Do you think Dayton was a good place to grow a project like this?
I think so, because Dayton is very special in the sense that there’s the Air Force... And I think people coming and going across the world and coming back —they have a bigger, wider vision of what a community is and they see how some of the other counties are and then they see our community and they feel great to be here. There’s also a lot of cross-cultural interactions, and it was just a great place to start it.