For the past 8 years my partner, Myron, and I have participated in a fund raiser for Low Country AIDS Services (LAS) called Dining With Friends. The idea is a group of people get together, have dinner, and bring donations for LAS. Pretty much anything goes for the dinner portion. Some people do a potluck, some do a progressive dinner, some rent venues and hire bands. We just have it at our house and we cook all the food ourselves, with the help of some extremely patient and hardworking friends. Our party begins at 6:00 PM and at 9:00 PM there is a reception at the Charleston Maritime Center with champagne fountains, more desserts than you can count, and a live band.
I relocated from Atlanta to Charleston in 1997 and we decided to throw a Dining With Friends party in 1998 so I could meet more of Myron's friends. The first year we had about 15 people show up. We prepared a bunch of random appetizers, drank too much wine, and it was a lot of fun. I don't think we even made it to the dessert reception. :-p By the third or fourth year our party had grown to about 40 people. The people we knew were inviting people they knew and it became a wonderful evening of camaraderie, food and people wanting to help a very worthy organization.
It just so happened that Dining With Friends fell on May 5th about the time our party was having exponential growth. To make it easier on ourselves we decided to do a Cinco de Mayo themed party. That was the first year we did a theme and we have kept it up ever since. So far we have prepared Mexican, Mediterranean, Moroccan, Spanish and Portuguese tapas, French bistro, and Caribbean cuisines. (The idea of Asian food keeps coming up, but it needs to be served fresh and hot, which is hard to do in this kind of setting. Not to mention the amount of work involved.)
We take a hands on approach to our party because we both get tremendous joy from cooking and sharing it with our friends... and their friends... and their friends... The goal, though, is to help LAS, which gets about 10% of its operating budget from Dining With Friends. Our first party raised a little over $200 in donations; at our most recent we collected $3700. We didn't think to keep track, but the best we can figure we have raised about $12,000 for LAS over the last 8 years. The money is only used for local programs and we feel good about giving back to the community.
If you're in Charleston on Saturday, May 5th give us a shout. We'll be having a party and everyone is invited. We'll provide the beer, wine, food and probably some kind of calamitous drama. :-)