The mezzanine hall at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel had the look of a good cocktail hour. Lots of cocktail dresses and smiling faces. But, ask the right question, and you could immediately pick up on a certain undertone of trepidation ... a bit of fear about what was ahead.
Welcome to "Dining in the Dark," a fundraising party for the Foundation Fighting Blindness. After diners were seated at the usual round banquet tables, the lights would be turned off. For 30 minutes, they would eat in pitch darkness, and be served by a visually impaired wait staff.
This is "to show all these wonderfully generous people what it's like to lose their vision from retinal disease," said Dr. Morton Goldberg, the former director of the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
"You can't see anything you're eating. You have to do it all by feel and orient yourself differently. And make sure you have your napkin handy," explained FFB chairman and co-founder Gordon Gund.
Joanne Stathes, Colgate Finkelstein & Co. vice president, announced she had the ultimate solution: "I've decided not to eat."
Having attended a few other "Dining in the Dark" events in other cities, FFB CEO Bill Schmidt said he had also seen another interesting maneuver.
"The funniest thing is that [some diners] turn on their cell phones in order to find the wine. They use the light from the phone. So, they cheat," he said with a laugh.
"It's OK if they cheat," Dr. Goldberg said. "If they also write a check at the same time."
Generous souls help launch Festival of Trees
The holiday season got a warm and wonderful kickoff at Kennedy Krieger Institute's Festival of Trees last weekend, courtesy of Baltimore Ravens kicker Matt Stover.
On the festival's first night, Stover and WJZ TV weather guy extraordinaire Marty Bass read children's holiday stories to the crowd. Kennedy Krieger executive vice president Lainy Lebow-Sachs says that, Stover stuck around until everyone who wanted an autograph or picture taken with him had been taken care of.
"You know, he's made it so big that he knows how to give back,"Lebow-Sachs says.
More giving back came the next night, courtesy of Michael Phelps' mom, Debbie. Lebow-Sachs says she, too, read holiday stories along with her daughters, Whitney and Hilary, and her granddaughter, Taylor. After that, Debbie graciously answered questions from the crowd, all about her famous son.
Big Heart Speaking of generous spirits ... at the annual auction for the Believe In Tomorrow Children's Foundation, the evening's honoree, Carl Dakes, confirmed his "Unsung Hero" status. The organization, which provides hospital and retreat services to critically ill children and their families, wanted to honor the man who has donated more than 360 hours in the past three years to painting many of those facilities. So, did Carl just bask in the spotlight at the big party? Uh-uh. The foundation's Jasmine Touton tells me Carl spent his time (and money) drumming up more support for Believe in Tomorrow by madly bidding on various auction items.