SIX DINNER GUESTS dressed in formal attire arrived at Chris and Julie Lombardi's home Feb. 13 for a Valentine's dinner of a lifetime.
A hostess took their coats and directed them to a room where a waiter and a waitress, dressed in tuxedos and white gloves, served hors d'oeuvres and champagne.
Two chefs worked feverishly but quietly in the kitchen. The fine china was on the table, as well as flowers and place cards (which were miniature menus with each guest's name at the top).
For almost four hours, the group dined on gourmet food, drank fine wines and listened to soothing music before leaving the table to dance the night away in another room. The best part about this enchanting evening was that the host and hostess didn't lift a finger.
The chefs, the hostess, the servers, a gourmet meal for eight, setup and cleanup were all part of a wedding present the Lombardis received from their neighbors John and Annette Mezullo.
Mezullo bid on the dinner-for-eight package during a fund-raiser for the Maryland Hospitality Education Foundation. When he learned he had won the $500 package, he decided to give it to the Lombardis, who were married in September 1998.
"He wanted to give his friends something beyond another place setting of their china -- something they would remember for a long time," said Larry Wilhelm, president of Wilhelm Ltd. Caterers in Westminster, who donated the package.
Wilhelm joined chefs Audry Brown and Chris Eckert and hostess Amanda Crouse to pull off the Lombardis' dream meal. They arrived about 4: 30 p.m. to set the table and prepare the meal.
Weeks in advance, they had planned a meal so that "each step was a little greater than the last," Wilhelm said.
The meal opened with baked brie with raspberry preserves accompanied by toasted almonds and fresh raspberries. Then guests enjoyed a spinach salad with red onions, wild mushrooms and smoked shrimp dressed with honey-mustard vinaigrette. They then eased into Dover sole pinettes stuffed with salmon mousse laced with chervil sauce and served with French-cut green beans and red bliss potato mushrooms.
Guests took a brief dining pause with an intermezzo of champagne ice, garnished with fresh mint sprigs, before moving to the main course: filet mignon topped with crab imperial and Bearnaise sauce, and served with asparagus bundles tied with a carrot ribbon on heart-shaped creamy polenta.
Dessert, the "pinnacle of the meal," Wilhelm described as "creme brulee resting upon a raspberry coulee and creme anglaise sauces, served with two chocolate truffles."
"The thank you notes are still coming in from our guests," said Chris Lombardi. "It was an incredible evening, and when we came down the next morning there wasn't even a fork to wash."
Joining the Lombardis were Amy Pierson, Julie's sister and the maid of honor at the September wedding; Tee Lynch, Chris' sister and their wedding consultant; Mary Beth and Lowell Livesey, Chris' sister and brother-in-law; and the Mezullos.
"The evening was a different twist on a wedding gift and a great way to celebrate Valentine's Day with friends and family," Chris said. "I'd like to do something like it again next year."
Lend a hand
There is a quiet army of volunteers in Carroll County who perform many tasks without waiting for a lot of thanks. These volunteers are clients at CHANGE Inc., a nonprofit organization for people with developmental disabilities.
They have cleaned soup kitchens, gathered and recycled aluminum cans, participated in the Meals on Wheels and Adopt-A-Highway programs, walked dogs for the Humane Society, cleaned up cemeteries and distributed fliers at church bazaars.
"There is a lot that our clients have to offer," said Carol Meister, manager of the community volunteer program at CHANGE Inc. "And people are starting to realize that the old attitude that folks with disabilities should be far removed is wrong.
"People with disabilities have a lot to offer if we give them a chance, she said. "Their volunteer work gives them an opportunity to give back to the community."
Administrators like Meister hope organizations will continue to call for volunteers from CHANGE.
They also hope folks from the community will come to help at CHANGE.
"Right now we have a 10-1 [client-instructor] ratio, and for the more disabled people we have a five-to-one ratio," Meister said. "The clients love one-on-one attention.
"We have a pool here, and we would like to have people come in and interact with clients in the pool," she added.
Lisa Breslin's Central Carroll neighborhood column appears each Monday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.
Pub Date: 2/22/99