And the winner is … Hillside Food Outreach.
The not-for-profit organization that delivers food to families in Westchester, Putnam and Fairfield counties drew more than 250 people and set a record for fundraising at its fourth annual “Dancing With Our Stars” contest Saturday in Danbury, Conn.
The day started like few other Saturdays. I was tired, groggy and in need of more sleep. The four hours of interrupted rest the night before weren’t enough.
The night before I had gone through several walk-throughs -- and one live performance -- of a swing and Lindy-style dance that I would perform for the charity fundraiser before an audience made up of friends, family and hundreds of strangers. Some of the politicians I had written about over the years were among them. I couldn’t help but think, maybe they’d like to see me nose dive.
By the time that the Hillside’s “Dancing With Our Stars” benefit kicked off, the nerves were high. Flop sweat, anxiety and a nagging question of, "What the heck am I doing?" wouldn’t go away.
My legs felt like they were anchored with weights. And I felt a little strange in costume -- a white hat and tie and a pinstriped suit -- that looked more like 1920s Chicago mobster than a journalist, let alone a member of an editorial board.
I kept telling myself that this dance competition was for a good cause -- helping people in need -- and frankly, everybody who saw the stress on my face said the same thing.
Even some of the seven other competitors seemed to get a kick out of my nerves, though they, too, could relate. Some compared it to public speaking -- on steroids.
I was brow beaten with advice: Smile, have a good time and don’t look down at your feet. But one of my favorites when a friend said, “Don’t screw this up” (only with a F-bomb in there).
My dance partner, Yuliya Zubava, a true pro who co-owns the Arthur Murray Dance studio in Mount Kisco, was a calming force. She basically said, don’t worry, you know the routine. She got me a bottle of water, though Lake Erie couldn’t have cured my dry mouth.
Then they called us out by name and after a false start by the DJ, the rest is, well, on YouTube.
In all, they brought in roughly $35,000, according to Kathleen Purdy, executive director. After expenses, that’ll go a long way toward covering monthly operations bills that are about $20,000.
“That’s the best we’ve ever done,” Purdy told me Monday. “That’s going to be tremendously helpful.”
Another bonus was that many in attendance joined the adopt-a-family program, whereby people sponsor a family for $45 a month, which provides 10 days of groceries.
The exposure is always good for a charity that relies on donations from individuals and corporations; Hillside does not take any government funding.
Despite my win in the dance competition (yes, a shameless plug for a guy who, up until a few months ago, considered the “sprinkler” a legitimate dance move), the crowd got behind the charity in a big way.
Judging from the noise, it was a good time all around.
The good feelings were also related to the good work this group does: it delivers groceries to people who don’t have access to food pantries and most of them are senior citizens, the disabled and people with illnesses like cancer. Read more about the organization in my column from last week.
One of the misconceptions is that Hillside gets the food for free. It does not and doesn't charge recipients a penny. So Saturday’s benefit helps fund this shoe-string operation that has one full-time employee, three part-timers and relies heavily on volunteers.
I may have taken home a trophy that night, but the real winner is Hillside Food Outreach.