One of the most powerful tools I know that brings people together is food. Of course we all need food for the nourishment and "fuel" that it provides our bodies, but breaking bread together with family, friends or new acquaintances has so many powerful attributes. I want to focus this column on four incredible people in Alexandria that use food to bring people together - and for a greater cause than filling our bellies.

My friend, Jim, does something that I have never heard of before, and I think it is incredible. He hosts "Guys Who Cook" events at his house every six weeks, and I am thankful to have been invited to experience one for myself. The concept is cool. Jim invites four couples (who do not know each other) to attend on a Friday night and this is a "gift" from Jim to bring people closer together. The guys show up at his house at 3 p.m. and start preparing and cooking an elaborate five-course meal. They show up and Jim hands them a recipe card and an apron, and it's up to them to make that course. Jim has lots of food experience and will help when needed (often for me) and encourage you along the way (when's the last time you made Coquille St. Jacques?) Picture Jim in his kitchen along with four men putting together three appetizers, a unique drink, soup, salad, delicious entrée and two fabulous desserts. This is comradery at its finest. The men laugh, talk, taste test, and become friends while whipping up a Thunder and Lightning cake.

At 6 p.m., the four wives/girlfriends show up and they are treated to a fabulous night of service, appetizers and laughs. While the men are finishing up in the kitchen ("timing" is what Jim says is the most difficult part), the women are also connecting and getting to know one another.

Friendships being made while enjoying some tasty baba ghanouj (aka "mashed eggplant" for you rookies) with homemade pita chips. Eventually, we all sit down at Jim's dining room table (built for 12) and enjoy food and fellowship! The men are assigned to explain what is in the dish they each prepared and some cooking tips on how to make that dish.

Jim selects the menu (there has never been a repeated item during his dozen+ events), selects the invite list and purchases all the ingredients needed. Doing something like this time after time is unheard of to me, and I am thankful that Jim opens his home, heart, calendar and wallet for this awesome event. This is truly the definition of bringing people together to build stronger relationships.

Pizza at 900 degrees

Like pizza? Enjoy supporting local causes that are worthwhile? Want to have an awesome outdoor dinner while listening to live music? Then please plan to attend (if you haven't already) one of the Wednesday night Community Wood Fired Oven Pizza events held on the lawn next to Alexandria Methodist Church.

Three people have been instrumental in putting together this concept and it is drawing huge crowds every Wednesday night this summer. Keven, Vicki, and John are three people who have donated thousands of hours towards this project. Trust me - "thousands" is not an exaggeration as this pizza oven is in my backyard and I have watched them build this labor of love over the past few summers.

Arrive on a Wednesday night between 4 and 8 p.m. (live music goes from 5 to 8 p.m.) for a homemade pizza cooked in their gorgeous stone oven (where the internal temperature is 900 degrees and your pizza cooks in 75 seconds). You then take your pizza and sit at a picnic table or on your own blanket, listen to the live music, talk with your friends or make a new pal. The cost of a pizza is $15 and part of the proceeds go to the local charity/cause/sports team. Eating a delicious pizza knowing that a portion of the sale is used for a greater cause? Genius idea! Come try it some Wednesday night as it runs from now until August 28.

What can you do?

And now I focus on you, dear newspaper reader. What can you do (and what can I do) to make positive community connections and new friendships over a meal? I don't expect all of you to open your home for a "Guys Who Cook" class serving stuffed mushrooms or create a brick oven the size of a minivan but can you invite someone over for a meal? Invite a co-worker, that person you sit by at church each week but know nothing about, or neighbors that you want to meet. Try it one time and I bet it turns out awesome - just like the Italian Cannoli pound cake.

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Tim Urness is actively involved in service groups in the Alexandria area. "In the Know" is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.