By Sarah Shah
Carrboro Commons Staff Writer
Undaunted by relentless rain and frigid temperatures, more than 600 people made their way to McDougle School in Carrboro on March 1st for an afternoon of food, entertainment and good company.
The 12th Annual Community Dinner, sponsored by more than 60 restaurants and local businesses, sought to celebrate the cultural diversity of Orange County through food and entertainment, said Nervys Levy, chairwoman of the Community Dinner Committee.
“We want the dinner to be a mirror of the community,” Levy said. “A mirror of who we are as Orange County in 2009.”
A mirror of who we are
Levy said the dinner also serves as a subtle community-building activity in which participants learn about people who are very different from themselves.
“The idea is to come sit with a stranger, and leave with a friend,” she said.
Marcia Corprew, owner of Town Planner Community Calendar, who has attended the dinner for the past three years, said her favorite part of the event was the diversity of people.
“People come from all slices of life, and no one has any pretentiousness,” she said.
With the goal of showcasing the community’s diversity, event organizers invited a variety of performance groups ranging from Joy Williams, a specialist in African dance, to East Baile Latino, a Latino dance group from East Chapel Hill High School. Associate priest II Dug from the Won-Buddhist Temple blessed the food.
Levy said this year event organizers also wanted to focus on the inclusion of the Spanish-speaking and youth communities. For the first time, the dinner featured Marisol Silva from El Centro Latino as a Spanish-speaking emcee.
Several youth performance groups, such as Cedar Ridge High School Choir, also provided entertainment. Levy said she hoped these groups would inspire others.
Dr. Rilandra Batise, a psychologist from Carrboro whose nephew performed at the dinner as part of the all-boy pop band Prince Miah & the Girl Toyz, said she was thrilled to attend an event that focused on kids doing positive things.
“I’m ecstatic to see we have a future,” she said.
Levy added that the dinner was a zero-waste event, meaning that more than 95 percent of all waste would be recycled or composted. Even the silverware was made from cornstarch, and event organizers tried to use locally grown food whenever possible.
Sujan Joshi, a UNC-Chapel Hill senior from Raleigh, said she loved the wide range of people and performers.
“I think [the dinner] accurately represents our community,” she said. “It’s a really diverse group.”
A democratic bank
Levy said the dinner would not be successful without the community’s generosity.
“We wouldn’t have this dinner if people didn’t want it,” she said.
Event organizers made a strong effort to underwrite ticket costs for needy families. In doing so, the dinner has become a “democratic bank of food and resources in which everybody wins,” Levy said.
This year, many people attended from the women’s shelter and emergency housing, and all leftover food was donated to the Inter-faith Council.
Levy added that the dinner was particularly challenging this year because of the economic recession.
The Inter-faith Council has seen an increase from 1,000 to 2,000 people using the pantry since last year alone, she said, posing an even greater financial obstacle for the dinner, which seeks to be all-inclusive.
Despite this, most restaurants were still more than happy to donate food, Levy said.
“They’re doing their best,” she said. “Generally speaking, I’m just amazed at the generosity of our donors. They know we have families in need.”
This year, attendees ate food prepared primarily by Mildred Council- better known as Mama Dip– with the help from Mint Indian Restaurant, Bandidos Mexican Café and chef Brian Stapleton from the Carolina Inn.
Other restaurants including Jade Palace, Open Eye Cafe, 35 Chinese Restaurant, Margaret’s Cantina and The Chapel Hill Restaurant Group donated side dishes and desserts.“We’re all in the same community, so of course we’re going to participate,” Rupinder Singh, assistant manager of Mint, said.
Greg Overbeck, marketing director of The Chapel Hill Restaurant Group, said that the group, which includes 411 West Italian Café, Squid’s, 518 West Italian Cafe (in Raleigh), Spanky’s Restaurant and Bar and Mez Contemporary Mexican Restaurant, participates in the dinner every year.
“We really believe in giving back to the community,” he said.
More than 35 businesses such as the Hillsborough Chamber of Commerce, the Strowd-Roses Foundation and The Carrboro Branch Library sponsored the event, and an additional 80 to 90 volunteers helped out, Levy said.
Manny Stein, a volunteer from Chapel Hill who has attended the dinner three years in a row, said he arrived at the dinner three hours early to help set up.
“I think the dinner is a wonderful innovation,” he said. “The community is really putting out a creative effort.”
Levy said several different groups helped with arrangements, including students. She said students from the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Social Work dealt with parking and food pick-up. Other churches and organizations helped to set-up the event.
Event emcee Ron Stutts from WCHL Radio has been emceeing the event for the past six years, and said this year’s dinner was a huge success despite the bad weather.
“The dinner is always a successful event,” he said. “But this year was the best ever.”