In homes all over the city, they gather. For a few convivial hours, Charlotteans share a collective culinary consciousness, breaking bread and swapping stories as part of Regional Aids Interfaith Network's annual Dining With Friends event.
"They say it takes a village to raise a child," says Nathan B. Smith, director of development and marketing at RAIN. "It definitely takes a community as a whole to really support every nonprofit."
Dining With Friends is a concept that came to Charlotte via Charleston, with similar events taking place nationwide. The basic premise allows volunteers to act as donors: Hosts invite their friends over for a dinner party consisting of anything from a potluck to a three-course dinner, and every person who attends is asked to bring a donation. "We don't set the standard of what the donation is," says Smith. "It's whatever people want to contribute. Some parties will raise $300 and some will raise $3,000. We want everyone to feel as if they can participate."
Smith acknowledges that personalization is a key aspect of the DWF experience. "The fun of it is you never know what you're going to see. Last year, someone did an '80s theme and someone came as a Rubik's cube. Someone did a Snuggie party the first year."
Patrick Hege, a longtime RAIN volunteer, hosted his first DWF party last year. "It was all red-themed; red cocktails and red food. I hosted with a couple of friends and we had about 50 guests. This year I hope we have 100."
As word of mouth spreads, Smith hopes that DWF's popularity soars. "When you talk about what the event is, it sounds so easy and simple, people think, 'Hey, I'll do one.'"
Although the dinner parties can start or end at the host's discretion, they're usually timed around the grand finale, held at the McColl Center. As a DJ spins late into the night, guests enjoy wine, beer, champagne and a smorgasbord of sumptuous sweets for dessert: 300 East, Amelie's, Blackfinn, Brixx, Cosmos Café, Dandelion Market, Harvest Moon, Soul, and Strike City will all be pitching in this year.
"The after-party's an especially great way to meet people from all walks of life," says Hege. "You develop some great friendships that I don't think would come to be without working with the organization."
RAIN will provide interested DWF hosts with an orientation on Thursday, Sept. 13. The DWF event itself will take place Saturday, Oct. 6. For more information, visit www.diningwithfriendscharlotte.org.