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A Southern Gala Returns For 26th Year

This weekend many staffers and lobbyists will be hanging up their suit jackets and donning formal wear as they make their way to the D.C. Armory to dance the night away in the name of charity.

Saturday marks the 26th anniversary of Taste of the South, the annual gala that brings 13 southern states together to raise $350,000 to $400,000 for various Southern charities. This year’s Congressional hosts include Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Kit Bond (R-Mo.) and Jim Webb (D-Va.).

“Taste of the South lets displaced Tennesseans support hometown charities — all while eating some barbecue, dancing to great music and enjoying a Little Debbie or two,” Alexander said. “I’m happy to continue to support this organization and thank TOTS for giving a boost to the Adoption Foundation of Tennessee’s fundraising efforts.”

The armory will be cloaked with curtains and decorations, with each state having its own booth complete with tchotchkes and food. In past years, corn dogs, grits and Little Debbie cakes have all been on the menu, and there has been an open bar.

“It’s a way to be able to get a good home-cooked taste of dinner without having to go home,” former Taste of the South Chairman Stephanie Leger Short said.

The event, of which Roll Call is a sponsor, has become so established that some of the 2,500 attendees expected may not know its origins. It was first conceived at the Tune Inn in 1982 when a group of Southern natives decided to throw a party to remind themselves of home. The party, hosted by12 states, was held on a Tuesday night and featured beer and fried chicken with tickets costing a mere $15 each. Over the past 26 years the event has grown in size and become a black-tie gala with tickets currently going for $90. The celebration rotated through a range of venues across the city including the National Building Museum, Historic Hangar No. 7 and DAR Constitution Hall, before moving to the armory in 2005.

The proceeds from the gala are divided up, with 80 percent going to the featured charity and the remaining 20 percent split among a Washington, D.C., charity and a hometown charity of each state’s choice. This year, the group getting the bulk of the money is North Carolina’s Cancer Service, which provides support for cancer patients and their families.

“One thing that I think is neat is just in the past five years we’ve been able to raise over a million dollars to give to charities,” Short said.

The gala is organized by an all-volunteer committee of staffers and lobbyists hailing from Dixie. Each state has three representatives on the committee, and these people are the backbone of the event.

“Taste of the South is a committed and focused committee of 44 volunteers dedicated to supporting worthwhile charitable initiatives throughout the South — all while remembering their roots and having a good time,” Taste of the South Chairman Jenny Sheffield said in a press release. “I am honored to be a part of this special organization.”

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