Making it through an entire meal without being able to see a single thing can be quite a humbling experience.
Every action, from clinking wine glasses together with friends, to picking up a fallen napkin, to trying to maneuver cutlery, suddenly becomes hard to do. Yet, more than 100 guests were up to the challenge of navigating their way around dinner tables, meals and conversations without their use of sight at Ottawa's new Dining in the Dark fundraiser for CNIB, held at Crust & Crate Public House on Thursday night.
Participants remained blindfolded throughout the dinner. That meant no peeking, unless they were willing to throw some cash into one of the donation pots.
Attendees included CNIB (Canadian National Institute for the Blind) president and CEO John Rafferty, along with former CNIB chair Jane Beaumont and Eric Hanna, who, along with being president and CEO of Arnprior Regional Health, is board chair of Vision Loss Rehabilitation Canada.
Out supporting the event was 2012 London Paralympic Games cycling gold medallist Robbi Weldon, who is visually impaired.
The evening grossed roughly $22,000 for CNIB and its accessibility technology options, like smartphone apps and other innovative digital tools that help clients with navigation, recognition and magnification.
More importantly, the evening left the crowd with greater insight into living with vision loss.
“I never could have possibly appreciated what Dining in the Dark would mean,” OBJ publisher Michael Curran said during his brief remarks — delivered while blindfolded. “I have so much more appreciation for the people in the room who don’t have their vision. My level of respect and admiration for people who function without their sight has increased significantly.”
Natasha Farrugia’s motivation for coming out to support the event with her boyfriend was personal. Retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a degenerative eye disorder, runs in her family. That means she could one day suffer from vision loss. “This is a learning experience for what’s possibly to come,” acknowledged Farrugia, a teacher at the Catholic school Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Vanier, while tackling her leg of duck confit. It was served under a glass that, when lifted, released an aroma of smoke.
The four-course gourmet dinner was paired with Pelee Island wines and beer from Beyond the Pale Brewing Company, which has also created a special Get Schooled Red IPA to help raise funds for CNIB.
The event featured a photo booth as well as a silent auction. A donated stay at Grand Isle Resort & Spa in Exuma, Bahamas, donated by The Foundation WCPD president and founder Peter Nicholson, sold for $4,000.
“I’m sure I’m making a huge mess,” commented Mike Todd from Saba Software as he cut blindly into his fancy pork chop, served on cauliflower risotto with zucchini. His brother, Jeff Todd, director of communications for The Foundation WCPD, was on the organizing committee and is a board member with CNIB.
Everyone was given the lay of the restaurant by CNIB’s manager of community giving, Julia Canning. Also on hand was Duane Morgan, executive director of CNIB Ontario East.
Guests heard how CNIB is making itself more visible by opening a new community hub at Lansdowne, which is currently a draw for its shopping, restaurants, concerts, sporting events and other activities.
CNIB's new space, located at 425 Marché Way, opens April 26th. The public is encouraged to visit.
“If you’re impacted by sight loss, come on in," said Morgan. "If you have family and friends impacted by sight loss, come on in. If you don’t know anything about sight loss and have never had any experience with it, come on in. We’re here to talk and raise awareness."