Difinity: Strangers share a meal, give to charity

It started with Adam Causgrove's "Gathering of Awesome People" -- a dinner for people who knew little about each other but were all engaged in promoting Pittsburgh.

The dinner lit another light bulb in Mr. Causgrove's head. What if each person at the dinner hosted his or her own where each guest donated a dollar for charity? It could become an infinite cycle of social networking, fundraising and food. So Dinfinity, a child of his local nonprofit Side Project, was born.

The concept for the grassroots social experiment, which is about a month old, is simple. A host brings a group of people who have little or no prior introduction to share a meal at a restaurant, potluck or home-cooked meal. It is encouraged to have no more than eight people so everyone can interact with each other. There, the host will collect $1 from each guest and donate it to Dinfinity. The host asks each guest to host his or her own dinner within the coming month.

Depending on how much money is in the account on July 1, 2014, the money will be distributed to nonprofit and community groups in the Pittsburgh region and beyond.

"Right now the idea is to use this as a way to support and make positive impacts on different Pittsburgh neighborhoods," said Mr. Causgrove, 29, of Mt. Washington, who also is known as Mustached American of the Year for 2012. He started Side Project, which is in the final stages of receiving its 501c3 status, to help facilitate the start-ups of other nonprofits and community groups in Pittsburgh.

Since Dinfinity's start-up in July, more than $50 has been raised, but he expects more when people join and post photos on the Facebook group found by visiting the website dinfinity.org.

"What's neat is since then, there have been relationships from that first meeting that have evolved into friendships and working relationships because they have that common ground," he said. "They were able to start talking and found out there were mutual projects they could work on together."

One of the guests at the original meeting in March at Union Pig and Chicken in East Liberty, Kate Stoltzfus, became interested in the experiment enough to create a website for it with her husband, Nik, donated by their company Plumb Media.

She thought of an interesting theme to bring together people she wasn't completely familiar with -- "Dinner of the Kates."

Drawing contacts from her blog Yinzpiration, Facebook, and email. she found several women named Kate, Katie or Katherine, and ended up with 15 guests, some of whom she knew and some she did not.

Over antipasti, ravioli, vegetable pasta, meatballs and salad served family-style at E2, cooked by Chef Kate Romane, the women got over their shyness after introducing themselves.

"It was fun to say 'Kate, meet Catherine, meet Katie,' " Ms. Stoltzfus said, adding that she set the scene with pictures of famous Kates, such as Catherine the Great, Kate Moss and Kate Spade.

"By the end of the night it seemed like people knew each other for a long time."

Each person paid for his or her own meal, but brought a dollar extra for the charity. Ms. Stoltzfus said although she had a themed dinner, that's not a must. What's important is reaching out.

"I think the food aspect of it is really important to share a meal," she said. "Something happens when you do that with your neighbors and with your acquaintances. I don't know, you get to connect at a deeper level, and I think it will be fun to see how far it goes."

Mr. Causgrove's next dinner will be in October, but he's keeping the theme a secret for now.

For him, giving back to the city of Pittsburgh is easy, even though he has only been living here since attending college at the University of Pittsburgh in 2002.

"Everybody is so supportive of everybody else of their goals and different projects that Dinfinity just seems to work out as a great conduit to bring these people together to the common goal of making Pittsburgh great."

Marina Weis: mweis@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1889.


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