The team behind Let’s Dance Louisville benefiting Feed My Neighbor is serving the community’s hungry
By Mariah Kline
Photos by Kathryn Harrington
The privilege of eating a good lunch every day is lost on many. Most of us consistently take for granted how fortunate we are to have access to nutritious foods. For many in our community, having a quality meal is only an intermittent occurrence.
An average of 65,000 hungry and homeless individuals step through the doors of Sandefur Dining Room each year. Located inside the Cathedral of the Assumption on South Fifth Street, the facility serves free lunches every day from 12:15 to 1 p.m. 365 days a year.
While many who come to Sandefur are homeless, others are working poor or those who simply need short-term help.
“There are a lot of people living paycheck to paycheck,” said Paul Tadatada, director of Sandefur Dining Room. “Some people may have housing but not much money leftover. It could be the end of the month and they’re just trying to get through the last couple of lunches before their next paycheck. This is for people who need a hand up to make sure they have a good meal.”
The Cathedral of the Assumption first began serving food to those in need during the Great Depression. The area where the dining room’s entrance is located was previously known as “Bologna Alley,” since bologna sandwiches were served through a folding hatch in the back of the building. Today, the kitchen has expanded, and the space includes a full dining area. The day’s menu often includes fresh fruits, salads and desserts, as well as soup and sandwiches. Thanks to the generosity of local donors such as Fourth Street Live! restaurants and Churchill Downs, Tadatada says his freezers are full of food that is ready to be served whenever necessary.
In 2013, Let’s Dance Louisville became the primary fundraiser for Feed My Neighbor, the marketing arm of Sandefur Dining Room. The annual event has made an impact on the downtown community and, thanks to organizers and participants, allows the program’s great work to continue and thrive.
David Grantz, owner and founder of Buzz Advertising, regularly volunteers at the dining room and has been involved since the fundraiser’s inception.
“Prior to Feed My Neighbor and Let’s Dance Louisville, the Cathedral was funding this themselves,” he said. “Each year, our small committee made up of an eclectic group of Louisville professionals rolls up our sleeves and gets to work. We all know that we live very blessed lives. …I named the charity event Feed My Neighbor because fundamentally, we all know – or we all should know – that we’re supposed to look out for each other. It doesn’t matter who you are. Everyone deserves respect and dignity.”
Tadatada affirmed that each person who walks through the doors of Sandefur Dining Room receives a meal and a comforting welcome. The volunteers who serve there, many of whom have danced in the competition before, understand that this an essential part of their mission.
Other services offered in the dining room include a weekly “Ask a Lawyer” day and referrals to social services and medical care facilities. In the coming years, the organization hopes to offer laundry facilities and showers for visitors to use, as well as counseling services to assist with rehabilitation and job finding.
Tadatada’s career has mostly revolved around the restaurant business, having worked for O’Charley’s, Wendy’s and Godfather’s Pizza. He also is a member of the Knights of Columbus and first got involved with the dining room as a volunteer with his Bible study group. He took on the role of director six months ago following the retirement of former director Steve Lee. Tadatada’s background in restaurants and Grantz’s experience in marketing have made them ideal facilitators for the organization and the event.
“Let’s Dance Louisville has been fantastic,” said Grantz. “Those 12 dancers bring in the support of their friends, family, colleagues and clients, and through our media sponsors, we’re able to put the spotlight on Sandefur Dining Room. This helps raise awareness and much-needed funds to make sure this good work continues.”
The dancers come from a variety of backgrounds but each shares a passion for the cause and a willingness to push themselves.
“It is amazing to me to watch as each dancer puts it all on the floor for those who are less fortunate than they are,” said Event Chair Maggie Cyphers.
Many familiar faces will be hitting the floor this year, including Jeff Howard, fitness instructor at Baptist Health/Milestone Wellness Center and The Voice of Louisville columnist.
“I truly feel honored just being asked to participate,” said Howard. “I’m relatively new to Louisville, but this town has been so welcoming to me. How could I not help out where I can?”
Though performing is a privilege for the dancers, it’s also an extreme time commitment, taking anywhere from one to three months to prepare. This year’s theme is Movie Night, so attendees can look forward to seeing slices of “The Great Gatsby,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Footloose” and more.
“My experience so far has been a challenge but also exciting,” said Mark Eliason, who is participating for the first time. “I didn’t realize it was going to take so much work to learn one dance.”
“I’m looking forward to seeing how much total money is raised,” added local blogger and dancer Grace White. “The dances are good, but the cause is even better. This experience has definitely taken me outside of my comfort zone, but that’s the only way to grow.”
An immeasurable amount of work goes into preparing for such an event, but the organizers and stars of the show do it all at no charge.
“No one on the committee and none of our 12 dancers make a dime,” said Grantz. “Everyone involved has the same focus: what is it that we can do to better our community?”
“It not only provides the funds to continue serving food and paying utilities for the dining room, but it also creates a connection between the dancers and the dining room guests,” said Dance Liaison Chair Peggy Hagerty Duffy. “Former dancers serve food in there several days each month and these same volunteers advocate for the hungry and homeless in other ways as well. The firsthand contact gives participants a meaningful way of understanding the blessings that their hard work on the dance floor produces.”
Now in its sixth year, Let’s Dance Louisville is setting the bar for entertaining and meaningful fundraisers in the area. Last year’s iteration raised more than $300,000, and the committee looks forward to exceeding that amount this year. While donations are greatly appreciated, Tadatada and company can also utilize more assistance in the kitchen. More than 380 volunteers work at Sandefur each month to serve and prepare lunches for those in need, but they are always seeking more individuals and families who want to donate their time. He hopes those who join him in serving find as much fulfillment as he has.
“When the opportunity came up to work here and get paid to do charitable works every day, it was a great feeling,” he said. “You have a whole different mindset going home at the end of the day. You get to see the men and women who come through here and hear them say, ‘Thank you’ and ‘God bless you.’ It’s great going home from the job knowing you’ve contributed something.” V
To learn more about Sandefur Dining Room, visit cathedraloftheassumption.org. To purchase tickets, donate and cast a vote for your favorite dancer, visit letsdancelouisville.org or call 502.657.5222.