With hurricane aid on their mind, hundreds of diners create ‘calm place in the storm’

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Hundreds of people gathered Sunday around tables that stretched along two blocks of downtown Raleigh to help raise money for the victims of Hurricane Florence.

But the meal that fed 1,000 people wasn’t just about about helping in the aftermath of a deadly storm.

The meal also came less than a week after a divisive midterm election, deadly California wildfires and reports of mass shootings in Pittsburgh and Thousand Oaks.

This supper is a response to a ”another kind of storm,” said Willa Kane, co-chair of The Sunday Supper Board, which organized the charity event.

“Today, as we raise money to repair the damage from Florence, we ask you to be mindful of that other storm,” Kane said. “To reach across the aisle. We ask you right here, right now to create a calm place in the storm. And to help us regain kindness, and civility and understanding in our country. One community at a time.”

The sold-out event featured pork ribs, ginger sweet potato casserole, vegetarian mushroom stew, barbecue chicken, banana pudding, cornbread and Brunswick stew from multiple local culinary talents — and entertained folks with live music that could be heard the full length of Fayetteville Street.

“We are just blown away,” said Harris Vaughan, one of the co-founders of The Sunday Supper. “The generosity of this community and the creativity of this community is on full display today. And I think it shows what can happen when people come together.”

The event formally was called “Come Together For The Coast” and people could sign wooden boards that spelled out “#Together” with their names and words of encouragement.

A prior event from The Sunday Supper at the Dillon, one of Raleigh’s newest high-rise buildings, raised about $400,000 for hurricane relief efforts. Totals from Sunday’s meal still are being calculated.

Sisters Tiffany and Terri Stanfield wanted to find a way to help their community and the victims of Hurricane Florence when they discovered they could join other diners Sunday.

“It shows a what a community can do when you’re working together to help people and how an event in just one day can change people’s lives,” Tiffany said. “It’s just one day and it can change a whole year. That says a lot.”

The community needs to see how people can come together and be unified despite all the negativity people “see on the news,” said Debbie Taylor, who also attended Sunday’s festivities.

“One person is always against another,” she said. “When you’re really here, you see that everyone is enjoying each other and connected to one another.”

Connectivity, friendship and togetherness were underlining themes for the event — and intentionally so, said Joyce Kohn, another Sunday Supper co-founder. “It’s a beautiful thing” to be able to serve food to help people in eastern North Carolina while also serving as a “catalyst to help bridge the divide,” she said.

But before the guests were allowed to eat, they received a homework assignment.

Meet someone new. Exchange contact information. And keep talking to them after the event ends.