Personality: Paula McCapes

Spotlight on board chair of Underground Kitchen-Community First

5/9/2024, 6 p.m.
Philanthropy runs in the family for Paula McCapes.

Philanthropy runs in the family for Paula McCapes.

“The people that I come from, it’s all about family and community,” Mrs. McCapes said. “When I was very, very young, I had grandparents that lived in a community (where) everyone had their strength in their niche.”

Mrs. McCapes recalled her grandfather growing fruits and vegetables. One of his neighbors raised chickens, another reared pigs and another could sew.

This desire to help included Mrs. McCapes’ mother, who would give people a place to go for the holidays when they had nowhere else. For about a year in the 1970s, Mrs. McCapes’ family also hosted a Vietnamese family at the end of the Vietnam War.

“It was always about helping. It wasn’t ‘how much does that cost,’ (or) ‘what is in it for me?’”

Being an active community member and part of numerous organizations does have its challenges, but this drives Mrs. McCapes.

“I’m not afraid of the work. I’m not afraid of the challenge. I think it keeps you aware, Mrs. McCapes said.

For Mrs. McCapes, being successful or at least “doing the best you can possibly do” entails “reading, absorbing, listening (and) thinking outside the box.” She enjoys researching and taking “deep dives” into the tough questions. With this knowledge, she can dig into that information to pass on to others. This includes her fellow board members at the Underground Kitchen-Community First.

One of the proudest moments Mrs. McCapes had with UGK CF happened after the pandemic hit. During this difficult time, the organization was able to get resources, work with other groups and individuals and ensure an underserved community still received “hot, high-end, delicious, quality food.” UGK CF, which was created in response to the pandemic, has continued to thrive.

Mrs. McCapes continues to help the Greater Richmond area and wants the community to remember her for caring about making change and being “imperfectly authentic.”

“I’m as broken as anybody else. I’ve got tape and glue, scratches and dents and I embrace all that,” Mrs. McCapes said. “I wouldn’t have it any other way because it means I’m living.”

Meet board chair of Underground Kitchen-Community First and this week’s Personality, Paula McCapes:

Volunteer position: Board chair of Underground Kitchen - Community First.

Occupation: Public relations and marketing.

Where I live now: Petersburg.

Education: Bachelor ’s Virginia Commonwealth University; VCU Center for Corporate Education – SHRM Certification; Virginia State University – graduate coursework in education technologies.

Family: Married, one son.

UGK-CF is: UGK-CF offers USDA approved chef-made meals to the Greater Richmond community. Prioritizing underserved individuals, we strive to tackle food insecurity and health disparities while providing daily fresh nutritious meals.

Mission: UGK-CF supports food insecure children, families, and seniors through community-based feeding and educational programs; providing a consistent source of nutritious and healthy, chef-made meals to the food insecure who live in underserved communities as well as those who find themselves in food insecure situations due to environmental or social events.

UGK-CF is attentive to the diversity within our communities, taking into account the needs presented by different cultures, dietary restrictions, health concerns, environmental limitations and food preferences. We push for positive health outcomes, while fighting against heart disease, obesity and diabetes. UGK-CF, its culinary team and staff are dedicated to serving all groups within the community and embracing diversity; promoting chefs and industry workers of color, women and the LGBTQ+ community who most often are underrepresented in the culinary world.

When and why founded: UGK-CF is a 501(c)(3) organization established in March 2020 in direct response to the pandemic when The Underground Kitchen, a roving experiential dining company, was forced to close.

Founders: Micheal Sparks and Nancy Koide.

I initially got involved with UGK-CF: Approximately 10 years ago with UGK. UGK-CF – since its inception.

When elected board chair: February 2024.

Why UGK-CF is meaningful to me: The selfless dedication of Micheal Sparks is the inspiration. His steadfast desire to bring his talents to the table to better lives is a bit of sunshine he is committed to share. Those of a like mind are drawn to his philanthropic mission, as one can find a fit to apply their individual strengths.

No. 1 goal and strategy as board chair: Strategically identifying and cultivating potential partners supporting various focus areas of our mission.

Biggest challenge: As with most nonprofit organizations - augmenting sustainable funding and sourcing partners.

No. 1 joy I have witnessed through working with UGK-CF: Consistent growth reaching more and more community members with healthy foods and offering experiential learning opportunities.

Ways to get involved with UGK-CF: Visit our website to learn more about our programs and join our newsletter to be notified of volunteer opportunities. Additionally, you can donate to our cause.

Upcoming events: This Juneteenth, UGK-CF is hosting the inaugural UGK-CF Jubilee, a fundraising event bringing together multiple organizations and individuals across the Richmond community to contribute to our cause.

How I start the day: My day starts the evening before. One half-hour to an hour of listening to music, going over what my goals are for the next day. When I wake, I am focused, ready and prepared.

The three words that best describe me: Creative, compassionate, loyal.

Best late-night snack: Smoked almonds.

My dream dinner guest would be: Neil de Grasse Tyson. — His intelligence is off the charts, his humor is welcomed, and his ability to converse with all manner of folk is priceless.

A quote that inspires me: “Live fearlessly not recklessly,” from Mrs. Ethel, a 94 year old. Her social circle included Duke Ellington and Count Basie in her day.

The best thing my parents or guardians ever taught me: Learn something new every day, read, read and read, be kind, be generous, be helpful — and live your life.

The person who influenced me the most: My parents. I am half of each, left and right-brained. As a child of a military family, we lived in a lot of places around the world. We were taught Southern values with a modern outlook. Our family females have quite the Type A personalities. (I could very much be a lady, while arriving on my motorcycle.)

Book that influenced me the most: I wish it were so simple for me to identify one book. I am an avid reader of sciences and the arts. I have absorbed bits and pieces of them all my entire life.

Next goal: 2025 — [Become] a full time artist in my home studio, gardening and a little traveling. There are a few continents I have yet to visit.