Mark Eskenazi / Clear Picture Photography

Let's say you've just gotten out of jail. You were released at midnight with your clothes, $40, and a one-way bus ticket back to wherever it was you got busted. Let's say you were in for nine years. You have no job and no friends or family. What do you do? You could go to a shelter or try and tough it out on the street.

Or you could go to FareStart, a nonprofit in downtown Seattle, where they'll help you find a bed, a doctor, and ask if you'd like to learn how to work in a kitchen.

Here are the requirements: You have to be sober and willing to attend training and classes for 16 weeks, 32 hours a week. "You just have to be ready and willing," says FareStart executive director Megan Karch. "Ready and willing to commit to your life."

For 15 years, FareStart has been helping the homeless get themselves together. It began with a cook and entrepreneur named David Lee—the father of Field Roast vegan meat substitutes—who started a business cooking meals for soup kitchens and head-start programs. After four years of cooking for needy folks, he had a revelation—if he taught the people he was feeding how to work in a kitchen, they might be able to find steady jobs.

Now FareStart runs two culinary training programs: one for adults in its downtown restaurant and one for young people in its Central District cafe.

Some facts:

recommended FareStart trains 300 students a year and, in the next four years, wants to double that number.

recommended The 16-week course includes on-the-job training, life skills classes, and counseling.

recommended Ninety percent of FareStart's graduates find jobs. FareStart graduates are working at Canlis, Elliot's, Whole Foods, Brasa, Noah's Bagels, Seattle Public Schools, Safeway, McCormick & Schmick's, as well as hotels, cruise ships, and catering companies.

recommended The restaurant serves over 100 customers daily for weekday lunches and approximately 170 customers on Thursday nights, when guest chefs such as Ethan Stowell and Tom Douglas come to work with the students on preparing a three-course dinner.

recommended FareStart also cooks 2,000 meals a day for shelters and child-care centers.

recommended The restaurant and catering business brings in just 40 percent FareStart's operating budget.

Now let's say you aren't homeless. Let's say you have a job, a place to live, some family and friends who could help you out if things got tough. And let's say you want to give a little something to a place like FareStart.

That's why God made Strangercrombie.

Strangercrombie is The Stranger's annual holiday auction, a 10-day online bonanza where you can bid on a cavalcade of good stuff—vacations, Vespas, fistfuls of concert tickets, every section of The Stranger—and all the proceeds go to a good cause.

Since 2002, our readers have raised over $130,000 for Northwest Harvest. This year, we decided to start spreading the generosity—your generosity—around by picking a new charity every year. So we did some research, held a Slog poll, and chose FareStart.

The auction begins with our special Strangercrombie issue on December 6, and we're already assembling some sweet gift packages:

recommended A gourmet, several-course dinner for 10, cooked in your own kitchen by ace chef Ethan Stowell of Tavolàta and Union.

recommended A 50-inch plasma-screen television.

recommended A "highest bidder" package, including backstage passes to Hempfest, a bong, a guidebook to Amsterdam signed by travel guru and NORML activist Rick Steves, and more.

recommended A salmon-fishing expedition with Stranger publisher and blood-sport enthusiast Tim Keck.

recommended Our perennially popular packages, including King of Clubs (a year of being on the guest list at Seattle's best nightclubs and concert venues), a Sasquatch! Music Festival package, a BDSM session with The Stranger's in-house dominatrix Mistress Matisse, and more, more, more.

If you want to help but you aren't in the mood to shop, you can donate to Fare-Start on our Strangercrombie page.

Also new this year: reader donations. Usually, we rely on the largesse of our friends and advertisers to donate auction items for Strangercrombie. This year, we'd like to invite you to the party. If you're a business owner, a collector of antique cars, a famous person, or anybody else with something to donate to Strangercrombie, give us a holler at strangercrombie@thestranger.com.

Strangercrombie gets bigger and better each year, and it's all thanks to smart, good-hearted readers like you. Let the do-gooding begin! recommended