- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 10, 2004

Southern belles and their gentleman callers helped raise more than $250,000 for charity at the annual Taste of the South benefit at DAR Constitution Hall on Saturday night.

Faces more often seen in the House and Senate offices on Capitol Hill predominated among the crowd of more than 2,000 sampling Southern cuisine at what is traditionally a not-to-be-missed affair for delegations from the former Confederate states. Guests ranged from Sens. Jeff Sessions and Lindsey Graham down to the lowly assistants who answer letters about lost Social Security checks.

Pecking order aside, all were invited to democratically nibble an eclectic selection of Southern cuisine.

“Good food, Southern cooking,” said Mr. Sessions, who couldn’t help noting that the Greenland barbecue from his home state of Alabama was a personal favorite. (Barbecue aficionados could sample 11 geographical specialties.)

Other delicacies included a shrimp-and-grits dish from seafood-rich Florida, “old Louisiana” alligator gumbo, and Tex-Mex-inspired offerings of tortillas and mini chimis.

Each year, the sponsoring committee selects a charity from a different Southern state as the primary recipient of proceeds raised at the bash. This year’s choice, the Louisiana-based charity Angels’ Place, supports families with seriously ill or dying children. Other funds were allocated to the D.C.-based Fair Chance, which provides business-management coaching to child and family organizations in Southeast Washington, and to the Dixie Fund’s programs in each of the 13 participating Southern and border states.

Partygoers packed the dance floor for hours, stomping to the Wil Gravatt Band’s country favorites and soul tunes from the Mustangs Band with drawls growing more pronounced as the evening progressed, thanks to a bar underwritten by Time Warner, the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America and other sponsors. Such generosity may also explain why so many non-Southerners joined in the festivities.

“Oh, there are quite a few Yankees who want to come party with us,” said Shana Stribling, spokeswoman for the Taste of the South benefit committee.

“It doesn’t matter where they’re from,” another guest observed. “By 2 a.m. … , they’re all whistlin’ Dixie.”

Stephanie K. Taylor

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