What makes a charity event a success? Is it the amount of people who came? The awareness raised or the amount of funds received?
Why do people go to events? Is it to see and be seen? Is it the food? The attire? Is it the cause? Is it all of the above?
For the team at HOME, or more specifically for me, it is all of the above and more. This article is breaking from style and being written in first person. Why? Because it matters that much to me. After attending more than 200 events a year for many years, I wanted to see if it was possible to create the “perfect event”—or at least, “my perfect event.” Two questions immediately came to mind: Would it work? And, would anyone come? Of course after that, my board kept asking a third question: Are you crazy?
Taste of Gainesville is about four things:
1) A casual environment
2) Great food
3) Something exciting I don’t want to miss
4) Causes that moved me to try and make a difference
There, I admitted it. Taste is about me and what I like. Ironically, it has become so successful that I don’t get to enjoy it as a guest. This event was created in 2009, first and foremost, to help the Child Advocacy Center. Thousands of children each year are abused in our community. Only a fraction of them were able to get the necessary treatment to recover quickly. I vowed to make a difference.
Soon after, I became aware of the services Children’s Home Society provides. Around the same time, I was introduced to a family that has changed my life—the Staabs. The more I learned about dystonia, the more I saw how Sammy and Tyler dealt with issues that would crush most of us. And the more I saw how Rick and Michelle Staab handled their adversity with grace, while continuing to function in their daily roles as they helped others, I knew I wanted to make a difference. You see, this is personal—very personal. To take my office and dedicate more than 1,000 hours a year to a cause, it better be.
The event itself is to get you in the door. The environment is very laid-back; it is June, so I don’t want to wear a tie or a tux. I like the idea of throwing on some slacks and going to have fun. The food is pretty fantastic, too. We have more than 30 restaurants participating, and the variety of food is as diverse as any event I have ever seen in this community. The entertainment is truly unlike any other event in town. We have an Iron Chef competition taking place in the middle of everything, putting three of Gainesville’s best chefs against each other and against the clock to prepare a three-course meal with a secret ingredient in less than an hour. And as mentioned above, there are the causes—one ticket purchased to the event makes a difference; one item won at the auction or one donation made goes directly to these charities. As a 501(c)3 nonprofit, this is a true fundraiser. Not a penny from the money collected goes to us. Other than the event’s expenses, which are extremely low, every dollar collected gets donated to these three charities.
We are making a difference. Tyler’s Hope will find a cure for dystonia in our lifetime; children will be helped quickly after their innocence is stolen and have a great chance of rehabilitation, while the violator is put in jail; more children will become adopted. We are making a difference, and I invite you to join us as we aim to make the biggest difference yet at the fourth annual Taste of Gainesville.
Taste of Gainesville offers local companies a chance to sponsor an event that not only provides food and fun for attendees but also supports three community charities: Tyler’s Hope for a Dystonia Cure, Children’s Home Society of Florida and Child Advocacy Center. Companies like Quality Plumbing, Quality DesignWorks and Cox Communications have put forth a great effort to make sure the Taste of Gainesville event is an enjoyment for every individual attending. Both Quality Plumbing and Quality DesignWorks have been proud title sponsors of The Iron Chef competition for the past three years. They designed, built and set up the kitchens, where local top chefs have the chance to flambé, sauté and braise their way to an Iron Chef title.
“We enjoy seeing our fellow community leaders and local businesses come together to support each other and these amazing nonprofit organizations,” said Bryan Nazworth, president of Quality DesignWorks. “After all the hard work, we get to enjoy a wonderful evening of great food with great people and most importantly, to the benefit of our community’s children.”
Cox Communications sponsors Taste of Gainesville specifically for the opportunity to support three local nonprofits. Devon Chestnut, public relations specialist at Cox Southeast, understands what a pleasure it is to collaborate with other local businesses for such an important cause.
“Cox has a long withstanding history of giving back,” Chestnut said. “We believe it makes good business sense to be good citizens in the communities we serve. We’re passionate about helping our communities, and charitable giving allows us to render support to organizations that focus on serving the local needs. Not only is Taste of Gainesville a fun and tasty event, it draws a very large and diverse crowd. More important, it allows Cox to support not one, but three local charities.”
So far, we have more than 20 companies that have sponsored this year’s event. Sponsorship ranges from $250 to $10,000.
In addition to raising money for local charities, the Taste of Gainesville event offers attendees the chance to sample dishes prepared by the area’s best chefs and restaurants. Dave’s NY Deli Owner Dave Anders uses this event to not only support a great cause, but to reach out to the community and meet new customers through his delicious New York-style deli sandwiches.
“I am a firm believer in getting out into your local community and reaching out to as many new customers as possible,” Anders said. “It was very important to me to be involved last year, as we had just moved into our new Tioga Town Center location. Last year’s event was the perfect forum to communicate our move to a large group of people, while offering them an opportunity to sample our food.”
Omi Risco, owner of Omi’s Kitchen and Omi’s Elegant Catering, has also noticed the impact Taste of Gainesville has on her business. “It has helped me grow my business more than any other advertising I have ever done,” Risco revealed. “I would definitely encourage everyone who has a business to sponsor this event. You will never regret it.”
A chance to gain new customers is more than enough of an incentive for local restaurants to participate in this year’s Taste of Gainesville event. For Anders, the response was overwhelming. “We not only had a chance to meet new customers, but we also received numerous compliments from many of our current customers. As a small business owner, customer feedback is very important to me, and the feedback is great for my staff as well.”
You don’t have to own a business or sponsor the event to attend Taste of Gainesville. Hundreds of people attend every year to participate in the silent auction, listen to guest speakers, watch the Iron Chef competition and sample delectable dishes from surrounding restaurants. Because we wanted to give everyone the opportunity to attend, tickets are only $75. With more than 100 volunteers, anyone can participate and become involved with this great event.
Linda Bennett, owner and founder of Sun Country Sports Center, originally helped out at the event as a volunteer. She felt compelled to do more each year. Now, Linda not only volunteers, but she also donates to the auction and brings her family along.
“What I like most is that this event supports THREE local charities, all with a good cause,” she said. “The food and auction items are great. I would absolutely encourage others to attend—I have enjoyed the event and will probably continue attending! This is a very hard-working group of leaders; they make it happen! Taste of Gainesville will be around for years to come.”
At the end of the day, Taste is about the children in our community—children who can have an opportunity for a better life because we stepped up to make a difference. Whether it is sponsoring the event, donating to the auction, participating as a restaurant vendor or attending as a guest, you can make a difference. Did I mention you could watch an exciting competition and eat your heart out, too?