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This Is for Charity?

In a mustache-growing contest for charity in the fall, Julio Jimenez, left, competed as Cheech Marin (and won Best Grower), and Dakota Fine came as Burt Reynolds.
In a mustache-growing contest for charity in the fall, Julio Jimenez, left, competed as Cheech Marin (and won Best Grower), and Dakota Fine came as Burt Reynolds. (By James Stuart)

Take the group's first event: Called the D.C. Idiotarod, the spoof of the famous Alaskan dog sled race had more than 130 costume-clad participants zooming shopping carts through the District's streets last March. Or the Amazing Race Scavenger Hunt in June, which had all the tomfoolery of the Idiotarod, minus the carts. Or the Rec Room Olympics in April, designed to re-create the parents-out-of-town/beers-in-the-basement kind of gathering -- a flashback to high school, an exercise in immaturity.

If the means are ridiculous, the ends are anything but: In total, SMASHED raised nearly $9,000 for charity last year. People may speculate on how much of that money came from altruistic intentions -- but, some would argue, who cares?

"You can have a great time and help somebody, or you can help somebody and have a great time," Shortill says. "It really doesn't matter what your motivation is."

Local bar managers say that young professionals are increasingly turning up for charity fundraisers. Brian Vasile, general manager of Tom Tom, estimates that his bar hosts at least one charity event a month in winter and about three a month in summer. At the Front Page in Dupont Circle, owner Craig Merrills estimates that more than 70 percent of the restaurant and bar's organized events are for charity -- that's four to six events a month.

Four years ago, Arlington resident Trisha White had signed up for the 39-mile Avon Walk for Breast Cancer -- an undertaking that necessitated raising $1,800. The thought was overwhelming, so White dreamed up a date auction, dubbed Babes for Boobs, at Whitlow's on Wilson in Arlington.

"The one thing you hear about in D.C. is that it's so hard to meet people," says White, 38. "So I thought, let's just cut to the chase: We'll just sell people."

For that inaugural auction, White auctioned 20 of her friends, male and female, raising more than $3,000. And on both sides of the transaction -- those buying and those being bought -- there is always, unapologetically, the cop-out: Aw shucks, I did it for charity.

"If I were just doing this to pocket money or for a Budweiser promotion, people might think it's kind of hokey," White says. "This gives you an excuse to sort of let your guard down and let go of some of your inhibition."

D.C. resident Marie Campos, 29, also leveraged dating into dollars to benefit the breast cancer walk. But instead of hosting an event at a bar, she and two friends started an online dating pool, building a Web site, setting up a PayPal account and inviting participants to fill out a preference questionnaire (Do you prefer the beach or mountains? Scooby-Doo or Shaggy?). And -- presto! -- they raised $1,000.

Not much science went into their 2005 matchmaking scheme, Campos admits, but "I think people were just happy to do something fun and wacky and give money for it."

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Terry Axelrod, author of "The Joy of Fundraising" and chief executive of Benevon, a Seattle-based fundraising training firm that works with nonprofit groups in the D.C. area, has a slightly disenchanted view of the entertainment bait when it comes to charitable giving.

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