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The season of feasting and giving

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Ah, the holidays, when foodies typically revel in a sprawling, gluttonous feast. Start filling your belly early at a couple of local holiday dinners. Panciuto (110 S. Churton St., 732-6261, www.panciuto.com) hosts a community dinner Dec. 9 at 7 p.m. This Hillsborough restaurant, committed to sustainable, local food, presents Portia McKnight and Flo Hawley of Chapel Hill Creamery as guest speakers. The dinner includes a variety of farm-fresh cheeses paired with each gourmet course. At $60 a person (includes tax, tip, dinner and wine), the dinner is a steal. The table seats about 32, so reservations are strongly suggested.

In Raleigh, Zely & Ritz (301 Glenwood Ave., 828-0018, www.zelyandritz.com), whose chef owns Coon Rock Farm, hosts two "spirits dinners." On Dec. 9 and Dec. 16, Chef Sarig Agasi will pair a four-course, locally grown meal with inventive holiday cocktails mixed by self-proclaimed libationist and boozehound Jay Earley. Things may get crazy by the third course, a beef osso buco over spiced pumpkin polenta paired with a pineapple-infused rum concoction. The dinners begin at 7 p.m. at $65 per person, $49 without the cocktails. Call the restaurant for reservations.

There are also ways to feed the hungry in our communities. According to the USDA, one in seven U.S. households experienced food insecurity in 2008. North Carolina ranks at the top of the list for childhood hunger, with more than 2,900 children living in poverty just in Orange County.

The Carrboro Farmers' Market (301 W. Main St., 932-1641, www.carrborofarmersmarket.com) is accepting food donations purchased at the market all month during the Farmer FoodShare Holiday Fresh Food Drive. The program has provided almost 12,900 pounds of food since May. Margaret Gifford runs the program and set the goal to raise 1,000 pounds by the end of December to be donated to soup kitchens and other organizations around the Triangle, including the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service in Orange County, the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle in Raleigh and St. Joseph's Bread Ministry in Chapel Hill.

"This program is small in the scheme of things, but it is demonstrating by example that if we are to have a healthy and sustainable local food economy in the Triangle, we must include everyone, even the low-income," Gifford says. "If we reach our goal, we will have provided almost seven tons of fresh, local food by the end of the year." (That equals 8,600 meals.) "Our hope is that the example being set by the farmers and shoppers will show that there is enough food to go around, and we all can help bring joy and good food to our neighbors with very little effort at all," Gifford says.

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Raleigh's Guerrilla Growfair (see "Local Crop Mob tackles farm chores in group raids") invites the community to help build a greenhouse Dec. 12 as a project for Zebulon-based Grow and Share (70 Harrison St., 269-5414, www.growandshare.org), a nonprofit fighting hunger through gardening and providing fresh produce to those in need. For more details, e-mail Steven Horton at steven.p.horton@gmail.com.

Contact Now Serving at food@indyweek.com to list food events and restaurant news.

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