Living Columns & Blogs

Annual Dinner in the Orchard a gastronomic and fundraising success

Shortly after the Rev. W.E. Mumford founded the Georgia Industrial Children’s Home, near the turn of the 20th century, he tapped the talent of some of the boys to organize a drum and cornet band, which became the “signature” of the home, a creative outlet for boys who had experienced very few bright spots in their short lives.

The band performed on trips to several southeastern states until a misguided 1920 report, from the State Board of Public Welfare, recommended the band disband because the boys may think they were begging for handouts. Fortunately, wiser leaders prevailed and the band was an integral part of fundraising efforts during the financial struggles the home experienced during the 1920s and 1930s, before World War II finally silenced the music.

On May 14, music could be heard before guests entered the gates for the fifth annual Dinner in the Orchard, the major fundraiser that has become so popular an additional tent was added to accommodate the 230 guests.

Big Daddy’s deep baritone rendition of Ray Charles’ “Georgia on My Mind,” backed by a few members of his band, welcomed the crowd, following the path under the pecan trees, to a sumptuous feast prepared by Chef Adam Jones from Halyard’s Catering in St. Simons and by Chef Matthew Raiford from The Farmer and The Larder in Brunswick.

The theme of this year’s gastronomic delight, “Where Local Meets Coastal,” featured Georgia white, lemon poached shrimp, pimiento cheese-filled deviled eggs and delicate asparagus wrapped in goat cheese for canapés. Creamy crab bisque and delicate greens from Sapelo Farms were previews to the main event — succulent short ribs served over Canewater Farm grits with roasted tomatoes and fresh haricot vert. Not to be outdone by the entrée, the bread was buttered with herbs from Gilliard Farms and topped with Sage’s Larder jam made with Harriet’s Bluff Farm blueberries.

This year, Raiford had a surprise in store for the dinner guests — buttermilk cake baked in an iron skillet, topped with molasses pecan ice cream, made with the nuts harvested from the GICH orchard and from the Farm Stand in Moultrie.

Ambitious partnerships

True to the purpose of the Dinner in the Orchard from the outset, GICH, part of Twin Cedars Youth and Family Services since 2009, features Georgia grown and harvested products, partnering with supporters in the community to create a memorable evening for patrons and sponsors of the home.

Lisa Wicker, development director for Twin Cedars, plans the dinner a year in advance, putting together a team for fundraising and for all the details involved in entertaining more than 200 guests. This year’s profits are earmarked for a building, now on the drawing board, to house a gymnasium, meeting and class rooms, which are needed for an on-campus school to address the needs of students who need a structured alternative to public school.

Off the Vine, the quaint shop on Vineville Avenue owned by Mike Daugherty and Jeff Button, and a favorite meeting place for wine connoisseurs, has been one of the sponsors of the annual fundraiser since the first year, supplying wine to complement each main course.

However, the owners’ commitment does not end with a check and boxes of carefully selected wines. Daugherty spent days decorating the tents with grapevines Button had cut and dried. He brought an assortment of greenery to complete the decorations and did not leave the campus until every table’s centerpiece was in place.

Joy Dyer, chairman of the event, and owner of Four Seasons Landscaping, secured native plants and worked with her crew for weeks to create elegant rural ambiance for Dinner in the Orchard. Raiford, a guest celebrity chef last year, emceed the live auction Saturday night, opening with remarks about the lasting impression he had of the staff and of the young people whom they serve, prompting him to offer his services for the next five years to his “charity of choice.”

After raising $20,000 in less than 10 minutes, Raiford can add “celebrity auctioneer” to his resume! With the proceeds from the silent auction, the GICH can add another $7,000 to its targeted funds.

Linda Finley, counselor and program director for the home, worked tirelessly to keep the volunteers nourished and hydrated for the week prior to the dinner, bolstering spirits on some sweltering days, to make sure the event would benefit the residents she considers her family.

In recent years, grants from the Community Foundation, the Peyton Anderson Foundation, the Lions Club of Macon, the E.J. Grassmann Trust and the GEICO Foundation have facilitated renovations to the GICH campus and to the cottages for the young people who desperately need a place to call home.

Katherine Walden is a freelance writer and interior designer in Macon. Contact her at 478-742-2224 or