This holiday season will be a little bit sweeter at the Heart, Love and Soul soup kitchen and food pantry on Ontario Avenue because of an unusual collaboration between Niagara University and a small, start-up business in the basement of a Cleveland Avenue home.
They've been raffling off gourmet chocolate candies, some of them as big as an 8-by-10-inch photograph. And, yes, they include edible photographs baked right into the chocolate.
Money from the raffle, which ended Sunday night, will be donated to Heart, Love and Soul at 6 p.m. Tuesday to support the nonprofit's holiday food distribution.
The fundraiser was the brainchild of Mary Ann Hess, who makes the specialty chocolates, and William R. Angus, an assistant professor of management principles at the university.
"It was an experiment, and we're delighted with it," Hess said Sunday. "We're a baby company, and we're trying to grow."
She had been looking for a way to promote her one-woman business of making edible photographs for weddings, proms, baby showers, and social events of all kinds, but she lacked the cash for advertising.
Angus, meanwhile, was looking for a business that he could assign to some of his students as part of their class work in developing, promoting, managing and operating the business in today's real-time economy.
"Mary Ann could make a fortune as a start-up company if she had the resources," Angus said. "It's fun to learn, and we're having fun here. And besides, we're teaching these students business ethics."
Pooling the training aspect for Angus' students with the 40 hours a week that Hess spends making chocolates turned out to be a perfect fit.
The students came up with the plan to raffle off the chocolates in a theater lobby, with all of the profit going to Heart, Love and Soul. In return, Hess practically "adopted" the students, treating them almost as if they were her own children.
Even though the semester has ended, some of the students voluntarily returned to the university last week to help with the raffle. Talon D. Fee of Pittsford, a junior at NU, came back Sunday "just to help out."
The collaboration has collected more than $500 recently from a raffle table in the lobby of the Regal Cinema.
"I'm honored that they picked me, because my business is so small," said Hess, whose company is Niagara's Honeymoon Sweets.
"We've developed an unbelieveable friendship and partnership with great enthusiasm. I'm so proud of these students."