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Dunning’s anniversary celebration raises funds, awareness of autism

As Maureen Mader celebrates the 20th anniversary of her ownership of Dunning’s Gourmet Meat Market in Homewood, she’s using the opportunity to raise awareness about a topic close to her heart.

A special event from 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, April 29, at 18436 Governors Highway, will help raise funds for the Urban Autism Solutions during National Autism Awareness Month.

As Maureen Mader celebrates the 20th anniversary of her ownership of Dunning’s Gourmet Meat Market in Homewood, she’s using the opportunity to raise awareness about a topic close to her heart.

A special event from 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, April 29, at 18436 Governors Highway, will help raise funds for the Urban Autism Solutions during National Autism Awareness Month.

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Mader hopes it also informs customers of the good work done by the organization, which provides job placement and living support for adults with autism.

Mader’s son, Nico, who is now 28, worked in the store for several years and many of her customers are familiar with him. Now living on his own with a roommate, Nico has made a big transformation over the years, from quietly working the cash register to having a friendly and talkative demeanor.

Urban Autism Solutions, a not-for-profit, is run by Julie and Michael Tracy, whose son has autism. When they realized there was little support for those with autism once they reached adulthood, the couple started the organization.

The organization runs a residential facility for adults with autism. For those who live outside the facility, they offer support with job interviews and hold events and arrange projects.

“They’re kind of a bridge,” said Mader. “They also have a community garden in the summer.”

Mader counts the Tracys among her friends.

“They’re just amazing people,” said Mader. “I wanted to do a fundraiser to tie in with the organization.”

At Saturday’s event, Mader’s son, who is an illustrator and animator, will do caricatures and donate the money to Urban Autism Solutions. There will also be a small entrance fee, 50/50 raffles and silent auction items including a dinner for eight catered by Mader and her sisters.

Although the event celebrates Mader’s 20th anniversary as the owner, Dunnings Market has been around for almost 60 years. Mader had been a regular customer of the market, originally located on Dixie Highway, and when she found out the Dunning family would be selling, decided to buy it. She went into it with no experience in running a store, but she learned and has continued to expand the business.

“We started as a meat market and then added salads. Then someone asked if we could make them a sandwich, so then I figured I should write a menu. It has evolved,” Mader said.

“Through the years we’ve adapted to what customers want and what the community needs in terms of a food store. We’re cross-cultural in terms of food. We just made food for the Jewish holiday,” she said.

As important as the food is to Mader, so are the relationships with customers in this welcoming, neighborhood gourmet market.

“It’s a special meeting place. People have made lifelong friendships over the years,” she said.

“My customers mean so much to me. I love them and they are like family and I really mean that,” Mader said. “I feel so blessed to be in such a wonderful community and have such wonderful, loyal customers. They could go anywhere to buy what they need and I feel very honored that they come here. I just want to express from the bottom of my heart how important my customers are.”

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