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Scullin: Foodies lend a hand to Pinelllas shelter

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Published:   |   Updated: May 13, 2013 at 08:17 AM

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I'm a big food TV watcher and have become a fan of Robert Irvine's “Restaurant Impossible.” That's the Food Network show where the burly English chef helps rebuild a hapless restaurant, from the kitchen to the front of the house.

This week, I'm an even bigger fan.

That's because Irvine will be at the Hilton Clearwater Beach Resort on Tuesday night to support Religious Community Services' Building Hopes Savings Lives campaign, which is raising money to build a new outreach center for the nonprofit's domestic violence program, The Haven of RCS.

If you enjoy “reality” food TV, or Irvine's acerbic brand of “tough love,” this event is for you.

Twelve people will pay $3,000 each to cook alongside celebrity chefs, including former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Ian Beckles and Julie Weintraub, who heads the Hands Across The Bay charity. Four teams will compete, cooking samples of the dishes Irvine and his crew will prepare for dinner. Irvine will go from table to table, coaching the cooks, many of whom I'm sure will be taking part in a timed food competition for the first time. Irvine isn't known for gentle words of encouragement, so those interactions should be fun.

Of course, it's all for a good cause. RCS hopes to have 250 people at the event and raise $65,000 for the new domestic violence outreach center. The outreach center houses The Haven's intervention programs, support groups, training room and prevention programs, which teach elementary and middle school students about healthy relationships.

RCS needs to raise $1 million to $1.2 million for the project and has collected about $525,000 so far, according to CJ Crooks, the organization's director of development.

The current outreach center is a converted three-bedroom, one-bathroom house that's nearly 80 years old and was donated to RCS in the early 1970s. With a jack lifting up one corner of the building and other pressing structural issues, the house is beyond repair and needs to be replaced.

The new building will play an important role in helping survivors of domestic violence and will help RCS staff members empower them to regain control of their lives, Crooks said.

Demolition is scheduled to begin next month, and staff members working in the existing outreach center will work out of the RCS food bank building while a new outreach center is built.

Tuesday's event also will bring much-needed visibility to the work RCS does. The organization provides a range of support services for domestic violence survivors: an emergency shelter that housed more than 400 women and children last year, a men's housing program that puts up men escaping abusive relationships in local motels and hotels, apartments where women and children can live for as long as two years while they rebuild their lives, along with the outreach center.

RCS also provides aid to homeless families and runs a large food bank.

General admission tickets for Tuesday's event are $149 and include a four-course dinner cooked by Irvine. And there might even be a couple of those $3,000 tickets left. For information, call (727) 584-3528 or go to www.rcspinellas.org.

Meet the editor This week, I'll be at McCabe's Restaurant in Clearwater, 2233 Gulf to Bay Blvd., from 9 to 10 a.m. Tuesday. Hope to see you there.

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