CHAPEL HILL — What’s the easiest way to help feed the hungry in Chapel Hill and Carrboro?
Go out to eat this Tuesday.
Tuesday is RSVVP Day, which stands for Restaurants Sharing 10 Percent; the V’s stand for 5 plus 5 in Roman numerals. Participating restaurants will donate 10 percent of the day’s proceeds to the Inter-Faith Council for its Social Service’s Food Pantry in Carrboro and Community Kitchen in Chapel Hill.
The food pantry provides about 1,500 bags of groceries to those in need every month, and the Community Kitchen serves around 80,000 free meals to hungry people each year.
This year RSVVP Day is celebrating its 25th anniversary. For the event’s first year, in 1989, community volunteer Irene Briggaman recruited 34 restaurants and raised $6,200 for the IFC.
Last year, RSVVP recruited 104 restaurants and raised more than $21,000. Over the past decades, RSVVP has raised $410,000, according to John Dorward, executive director of IFC.
Dorward gives much of the credit to Briggaman, who has kept the hunger-relief program going in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, even as it eventually failed in Raleigh and Durham.
“She is tenacious,” Dorward said. “She’s very active, and we love her.”
RSVVP got its start in Baltimore. People in the Triangle heard about it and decided they wanted to try the program, according to Briggaman.
The IFC asked her to attend a meeting about the program, and after the Triangle-wide version stalled, she went to work locally.
“I said, ‘I think I can do this in Chapel Hill,’” she said.
“We knew about the idea, but we didn’t know how to make it effective,” she said. “I just went along and made it up.”
She contacted the local newspaper and radio station, which helped publicize the event. Then she went from restaurant door to restaurant door to spread the news.
After seeing how Briggaman set up the program in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, Raleigh and Durham joined the next year; they participated until 2007.
“It never really took off in those two towns,” Dorward said. “I like to say (it’s because) they didn’t have Irene working for them.”
In Chapel Hill and Carrboro, RSVVP has become a big day for eating out. Some folks make a day of it – eating breakfast, lunch and dinner at participating restaurants.
A few restaurants in Hillsborough, Durham and northern Chatham County also participate.
As the program has grown and Briggaman, 75, has slowed down a bit, a team of volunteers and several staff people have joined her in recruiting and organizing restaurants, printing and distributing posters for each venue, and publicizing the event.
But even so, she’s still on the run, volunteering for RSVVP and other organizations, too.
It’s been her personal mission to help those in need and to serve her community.
“It’s been quite an experience,” Briggaman said.