Rehoboth Beach residents and businesses will once again break bread at the Community Unity Dinner on Dec. 2, from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Rehoboth Beach Convention Center.
The return of the event comes after a multi-year hiatus.
Patty Derrick, co-founder of the first Community Unity Dinner in 1994 and the current owner of The Seashell Shop, has returned as the dinner’s chairperson.
“I live in town, and I’ve had people knock on my door and say: ‘Thank you for bringing the Community Unity Dinner back. I loved it so much way back when.’ I’ve had people calling me on the phone to thank me and stopping in my store,” she says.
(From Left) The Sea Shell Shop owner and event founder Patty Derrick, Nicola Pizza Manager Kelly Munyan and former City Manager Greg Ferrese.// photo courtesy of Karen Falk.
The initial spaghetti dinner, prepared by Nicola Pizza, was brought to fruition as a way to ease tension in the town. Businesses were disgruntled about changes to city codes, and some residents were upset that Rehoboth was becoming a destination for the gay community. CAMP Rehoboth, founded in 1990, was then a fledgling organization established to promote cooperation and inclusiveness.
“Everyone was distraught,” recalls Derrick, who’d chaired the town’s centennial celebration in 1991. She was discussing her concerns with city commissioner Mildred “Billie” Shields when Shields asked her: “Patty, why don’t you have a dinner and make it all better?'”
Mayor Sam Cooper allowed her to use the convention hall, and John Kleitz, then the president of Downtown Business Association, agreed to sponsor the event. Nicola Pizza volunteered to make the meal, and the Village Improvement Association members helped set up the tables.
Thus, the event was born. Nearly 500 people came out for the first Community Unity Dinner and saw the presentation of the Citizen of the Year Award, which was given to Shields.
Over the years, changes to the dinner’s format— including a boost in ticket prices— led to decreased interest among community members. The event stopped just before construction on the convention center began.
Derrick is taking the concept back to its roots, complete with the spaghetti dinner from Nicola. The menu will also include fudge from The Sea Shell Shop, cake from CAMP Rehoboth, bonbons from Snyder’s Candy, salad from The Pond, salad dressing from McDonald’s, craft beer from Dogfish Head, soft drinks from Pepsi and the Blue Moon restaurant, paper products from Holt and table decoration from Windsor’s Flowers, Plants and Shrubs.
Once again, the food will be served by local dignitaries, including Mayor Paul Kuhns, City Manager Sharon Lynn, Sen. Ernie Lopez, former City Manager Greg Ferrese and former Sen. George Bunting.
Just like dinners in years past, there will be activities for children, holiday music and a visit from Santa.
But not everything will be exactly the same as it was in 1994. This year, the dinner will salute all the past winners of the Citizen of the Year award, instead of just one individual.