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Mama Dip's serves up classic southern food for annual Orange County Community Dinner

On Sunday, Orange County residents from all walks of life will realize they have a lot more in common than a love for fried chicken when they come together for Orange County’s annual Community Dinner. 

The dinner began 18 years ago when a cultural arts group decided to collectively celebrate Black History Month.

Nerys Levy, co-chairwoman of the Community Dinner committee, played an integral role in developing the event, which now serves to celebrate the cultural diversity of Orange County by presenting culturally diverse food and entertainment from the community.

Levy said Mildred Council, better known as Mama Dip, was part of the planning process from the very beginning.

“We initially had it to celebrate Black History Month in February,” Levy said. “It sort of evolved and Mama Dip came on early as well and she also felt that we needed to make the event more culturally inclusive.”

This year, Mama Dip will be providing the majority of the food for the event, and she said this year’s menu includes chicken, collard greens, yams and coleslaw. The Carolina Inn will also be providing main courses for the event, and several local restaurants and churches will donate side dishes.

Paid for by donations, the event is free for those who can't afford it. For those who can afford it, tickets are $8 for adults and $3 for children. 

Levy said she has maintained the same goal for the Community Dinner since it first began.

“The goal is always the same — to make our society more inclusive and to make everybody feel welcome on this planet,” Levy said. “There should be no lines to divide people or to exclude people.”

Kathie Reeves, spokeswoman for the Community Dinner committee, said they plan on feeding around 650 people at the event Sunday.

With so many people in attendance, Levy said residents will learn more about their community during the dinner.

“By sharing a meal, people understand that they have a lot in common,” Levy said. “People start to get to know our community and the needs of our community.”

Although Council will be making food for 650 people, she said her job for the dinner is fairly simple.

“All I’ve ever done was cook, so a job in the kitchen’s not such a job for Mama Dip,” Council said.

Florence Peacock, one of the platinum donors to the dinner, said the event creates bonds between diverse members of the community.

“It creates friendships among people who would never in the world meet,” Peacock said. “For me, one of the many things in my life is getting many people together and helping them realize they like being together.”

Levy is also an internationally acclaimed artist and said the key to both art and life is to keep an open mind.

“When you’re an artist, you go on a blank canvas and build that canvas based on your experience," Levy said. “What we’re asking people to do is open their minds and their hearts.”

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