Brenda Bourassa and Emily Francis, who help keep ‘Dining In Dracut’ in good taste

Emily Francis, left, co-chairperson of “Dining In Dracut,” and Brenda Bourassa, president of Circle of Friends, are two of the reasons this charitable event for the tastebuds gets better every year. Valley Dispatch/Julia Malakie
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DRACUT — Twenty or more area restaurants, samples of their popular creations, friends mingling over an array of appetizers, enticing entrees and rich desserts, and the added fun of voting for favorites in several categories.

Add in the reasonable price for a night of sampling savory local dishes, and there are many reasons to check out the ninth annual “Dining in Dracut.” Tickets for the event, scheduled for Monday, March 7, at Lenzi’s from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m, are $15 in advance or $18 at the door. Tickets at the advance rate can be reserved by e-mailing circleoffriendsinc@comcast.net.

Perhaps one of the best reasons to support “Dining In Dracut” is that it is the major fundraiser for Community Outreach: Circle of Friends. Proceeds benefit the numerous charities and outreach programs that this devoted group of 17 women — ages 23 to 70-plus — has chosen to help.

Brenda Bourassa, president of Circle of Friends, and Emily Francis, co-chairperson of Dining in Dracut — who at age 27 is the second generation to step up to the dinner plate — shared their thoughts about “Dining In Dracut,” past and present.

Q: How did “Dining In Dracut” get started?

A: We were looking for a good fundraiser and saw the success that other towns were having with these tasting events. We saw that nobody in Dracut was doing it, so we looked at the demographics of Dracut and came up with a price and a concept that would work for the town. We had already done craft fairs and sock hops, but we needed something different and something bigger.

Q: Was it an immediate success?

A : Absolutely. It was really grand and a new concept for Dracut, but we were so nervous on opening night. People were lined up an hour ahead of time around the building and we were afraid of running out of food. But the restaurants are great and always plan to bring extra, knowing that any leftover food is donated to area shelters. Now, people realize that they don’t need to come so early because we won’t run out of food.

Q: Is there anything new planned for Dining In Dracut this year ?

A: We’ll be selling our new cookbook for $10 each. It’s called “Feast of Friendship,” a spiral bound and colorful cookbook with 264 favorite recipes contributed by our group members, our family, friends and a couple of restaurants. Many of the recipes have been in families for generations — from all different ethnic backgrounds. We also have an upscale Beacon Hill restaurant for the first time — the Mooo Restaurant of XV Beacon Hotel. Dining in Dracut co-chairperson Suzanna Bradley, who is just 23 years old, is a pastry chef at Mooo. But we don’t know what she’s bringing yet! We’ll also have a DJ for the first time, and although this is not new this year, we will be collecting nonperishable food for the Dracut Food Pantry.

Q: Do you get an enthusiastic response from the local restaurants?

A : Some restaurants just can’t do it because of the economy, and this does require them to donate food and have the employees serve it. Owen & Ollie’s started with us last year and they were quick to sign up again.

Owen & Ollie’s and the other restaurants are really into charitable giving and especially like that “Dining In Dracut” benefits charities.

They are excited about it and look forward to it. It’s really wonderful to see those that really want to give back; it’s heartwarming.

Q: You are all busy women and this takes a lot of planning and effort. What drives you?

A: We just really want to give back a little in a quiet manner.

It’s rewarding to know that we can make a difference to the charities we support, including food pantries, children’s back-to-school backpacks and supplies, Thanksgiving and Christmas food baskets, crisis bags for battered and abused women and children, adopting families at Christmas; assisting families in crisis; scholarships to local high schools for community-service oriented teens; drug- awareness programs; camperships for Boy and Girl Scouts; library donations; aid to those struggling to meet medical expenses, visiting the elderly in nursing homes, and more.