by Liza Roberts
photographs by Juli Leonard
Raleigh gets top ranks for all kinds of things: education, employment, quality of life. Those of us who love it know that our city’s true value may be less measurable, but it’s no less real. It’s a spirit: an optimism, a cooperative yes-we-can attitude. It’s generosity.
Nowhere was that more evident than on Fayetteville Street the Sunday after the most divisive election in modern memory, when 1,000 Raleighites, mostly strangers to one another, came together at tables that stretched from Morgan Street to Martin Street to break bread and raise money for Hurricane Matthew flood relief.
In a $20-a-head event that came together in the matter of a couple of weeks and sold out in four days, top chefs cooked, three bands played, a gospel choir sang, and more than 300 people volunteered. Mayors from five communities affected by flooding came to say thanks, and more than $100,000 was raised for the North Carolina Disaster Relief Fund.
“I’ll tell you, from a down-Eastern North Carolina perspective, we’re very thankful and humbled for the generosity of the folks here in the Triangle,” said Kinston mayor B.J. Murphy, taking in the scene as it unfolded. At least 1,500 people stood with their hands to their hearts and sang the national anthem as a massive American flag wove from the extended ladder of a fire truck. Tables as long as the eye could see extended down Raleigh’s proudest street with centerpieces made of saplings – oaks and cedars donated by Worthington Farms in Greenville – for Murphy and other mayors to take home and plant.
Participants said they were grateful for the opportunity to give back.
Chef Jason Smith of 18 Seaboard got the call just a few days earlier: “We need help feeding 1,000 people on Sunday,” his friend Harris Vaughan told him. Partner at the public relations firm Eckel & Vaughan, Vaughan was working – volunteering – around the clock to put the event’s pieces together. Smith’s answer: Sign me up. “Eastern Carolina has been very good to us,” Smith said. “A lot of our suppliers from Eastern North Carolina were affected … and helping out like this is the kind of stuff we like to do.”
He stood in his chef’s whites, ready to deliver 32 gallons of sweet potato slaw to help feed everyone there. He was in good company. More than 60 other local businesses, organizations, and churches also donated their services. They ranged from The Original Q Shack and Lucettegrace, which were among the other contributors to the barbeque supper, to the Lincoln Theatre, which donated the stage, and Flyboy Aerial Photography, whose founder, Travis Jack, captured it all from the air with a drone he operated (carefully) from the sidewalk.
“This is true North Carolina compassion at work,” said Willa Kane, event co-chair and volunteer. “This was a tremendous outpouring of love and support for our neighbors, who need us now more than ever.” Kane, together with Joyce Kohn of the marketing firm Kohn Associates, Harris Vaughan, and Vaughan’s business partner Albert Eckel were the masterminds and maestros of the event.
As the Shaw University gospel choir sang and hundreds of people took their seats, John Yates, rector at Holy Trinity Anglican Church, asked everyone to stand and hold hands. As he blessed the meal, the gathering, and the Eastern North Carolinians they were there to support, passers-by spontaneously stopped as well, joined hands with one another, and bowed their heads in prayer.