Meet John and Kelly DeMario. Residents of Charlotte for nine years, they have created two of the largest charity events in the city, with John holding Charlotte Food Fight this Saturday and Kelly organizing the seventh Purses with a Purpose on May 9. They are amazing.
Like most Charlotte stories, this one starts with a couple moving here and the search for friends. Being from Philadelphia, John was a diehard Eagles fan. And, as we all know, when a sports fan moves to a new city it is their duty to link up with fellow fans of their team. After finding a bar to watch a game, John and Kelly DeMario wanted to meet fellow Eagles fans. But as it turned out, they would soon meet 15 of their best friends.
Linked by their love of the Eagles, the group members talked about camping trips and spending more time together. It was at this point that the DeMarios were introduced to Relay for Life, and soon their group of friends became a passionate fundraising team. Drawn in by the grass-roots nature and the ability to fundraise in creative ways, the couple were hooked, and more than nine years later have raised tens of thousands of dollars for cancer research.
Three years ago, John started Charlotte Food Fight, a food truck competition that decides who creates the best mobile food in Charlotte. The competition is pretty spectacular, but more importantly the proceeds go right back to charity. The event has humble beginnings – the first year saw around eight food trucks and 250 in attendance – but the growth has been significant: 13 trucks participated and more than 600 people attended last year.
Meanwhile, Kelly is in her seventh year managing Purses with a Purpose, which collects and sells gently used purses, with all proceeds going to charity. On May 9 they will hold the sale at the Ballentyne Hotel for the second straight year and have more than 2,000 purses to sell.
Like the food truck competition, this event’s growth is also impressive when you consider that the first year the DeMarios strung 100 handbags on clotheslines in their front yard.
To hear John and Kelly talk about these causes is inspiring, not because of their success, but for the attitude they have toward giving back to their community. For nine years they have raised money to defeat cancer, not because it’s a trendy thing to do, but because “wanted to plant their roots in Charlotte and impress in our kids that giving back is important,” Kelly said.
It is remarkable to hear them deflect praise to a group of people they met nine years ago in a bar, and how excited they are for this year’s events. They are in the process of moving houses with two major events coming up, but John still is giddy when he describes sending Craigslist messages to people selling purses to see whether they will donate.
As a writer, it is nearly impossible for me to fully detail their story, and what they described over donuts on a Sunday morning. Therefore I am not going to wrap up this article with a nice tidy conclusion, but instead urge you to do the following things:
(1) Go to their events if you can. The Facebook pages are linked above, and John tells me that the secret ingredient the food trucks have to use this Saturday is amazing.
(2) Reach out to John and Kelly and let them know how valuable they are to the Charlotte community. People who devote their lives to giving back as much as they do are rare, and deserve all the accolades in the world.
(3) Find your own way to give back to Charlotte. Start small and recognize that there are more opportunities than excuses.