Growing up in New Iberia, La., on the edge of the bayou, Adrienne Fox Luscombe was never very far from a really great Cajun meal. So it made sense that, in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, she would leverage her Cajun country connections to help with relief efforts.
Luring more than a hundred friends, neighbors and coworkers to their Alexandria home last weekend with the promise of authentic Cajun and Creole cuisine, Fox Luscombe, 34, and her British husband David Luscombe, 38, collected more than $8,400 in donations targeted for the American Red Cross.
"I just felt with so much going on after the hurricane, if there was something I could do to help to rebuild, I would," said Fox Luscombe, who moved to this area in 1993 and volunteers with the Alexandria Chapter of the Red Cross. "A lot of people said they wanted to donate money, but they hadn't yet, or they didn't know how. The party made it easy for them."
David, she says, recommended they host the fundraiser as a way to help storm victims and evacuees -- and to raise their own spirits.
For a minimum contribution of $25 per person -- many gave much more -- the Luscombes treated guests to exotic Cajun treats such as boudin balls (deep fried, rice-stuffed sausages), mini muffalettas (provolone and salami sandwiches smeared with olive spread) and crab dip. Main courses included pork loin stuffed with cornbread and shrimp, as well as duck and andouille gumbo. Crispy pecan pralines and beignets -- fluffy pillows of fried dough, coated with powdered sugar -- topped off the meal.
To defer some of the party's costs, Fox Luscombe tapped local business contacts. Her first call went to Mike Odom, the husband of her best friend from New Iberia and the chef de cuisine at the District restaurant Olives.
"I got two sentences in and Mike said, 'I'm in. Give me at least a week's notice to prepare'," she said.
A native of Lafayette, La., Odom says he welcomed the chance to show off his hometown cuisine. He asked for help from several of his suppliers, including Congressional Seafood of Jessup, which donated shrimp and crawfish, and Fells Point Meats, which contributed pork loin. Odom tapped Lafayette-based Cajungrocer.com for the boudin balls and andouille sausage. Blooms from K. Aubrey Flowers and Nicole's Flowers, both in Alexandria, added to the decor, and food was kept steamy in chaffing dishes lent by Tantallon Country Club.
"I have been taken aback by the lack of hesitation from people who were willing to help put on this party," Fox Luscombe said. "I'm not someone who likes to ask for personal favors."
All cash donations were turned over to a local Red Cross volunteer who attended the party and surprised the hosts by raffling off two pairs of Nationals tickets. (The American Red Cross requests that anyone raising funds on behalf of the organization notify a local chapter in advance for guidelines. Identify local chapters online at www.redcross.org.) Guests, including several with deep southern roots, raved about the food and said they were delighted to be part of efforts to help the ravaged region.
"I love New Orleans and it makes me so mad to hear people say the city isn't going to come back," said guest Gerri Anne Looney, 36, a native of Lockport, La., now living in Alexandria. "Of course it will be rebuilt."
Also at the party was Looney's mother, Karen Olagues, a New Orleans resident who left the city on Aug. 29, her 60th birthday, and has been staying with Looney. Olagues described herself as lucky -- her property damage was limited to several downed trees. The ordeal, Olagues said, brought home the impact seemingly small gestures of generosity can have.
"I'm just so thankful to Adrienne and the Red Cross," she said. "They've been so compassionate. They represent the spirit that will ensure that New Orleans gets rebuilt."