Chocolate Festival to benefit Lillie Rice Center

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WALLA WALLA — Take one nonprofit agency serving disabled adults.

Drop in the need for a first-ever major fundraising event.

Sprinkle a willing – and enthusiastic — board member.

Stir briefly. Bake at brain temperature. Let sit at planning temperature.

Yields one Walla Walla Chocolate Festival, large enough to serve a community of confection lovers.

Serve up Saturday at the Marcus Whitman Hotel & Conference Center, beginning at noon, with partners in all things chocolate and contestants in chocolate creations.

Top with a public happy to make piggies of themselves.

The Lillie Rice Center’s initial foray into public fundraising did not cook up in quite that order, but nearly so, said Chris Daudt, executive director for the organization that employment, vocational development and training for adults with developmental disabilities.

It began with local attorney and Lillie Rice board member Jeff Burkhart. His mom has worked for an annual chocolate festival on the East Coast for a dozen years. Thus when he cast about for possible fundraising ideas, it was his mom who put the idea on the menu board, Burkhart said.

He remembers working as unpaid labor for his mom on her event, he said with a laugh. “But it was fun. It’s so much chocolate, overflowing, you can really gorge yourself.”

Initially Lillie Rice board members considered setting a high-brow tone with a chocolate and wine pairing event. “Upscale-looking,” Burkhart said. “But it evolved into more of a low-key event, something family oriented.”

On two levels. Not only will the four-hour event be a cornucopia of chocolaty goodness — after an admission price of $2 per person, attendees can buy tokens to taste the offers of several chocolatiers for 50 cents each — families can also enter in the competition.

This is where things should get fun, according to Daudt and Burkhart. Besides getting some deliciously generous donations from area chocolate vendors, a number have committed to entering the baking and showpiece contest. Those entries are bound to be fabulous, they said, but having moms, dads and the kids entering the arena will be what the festival is all about.

“Friday you can have a fun family event in the kitchen and Saturday morning Dad can run it down to the Marcus Whitman,” Burkhart said, conceding he doesn’t have children to clean up after.

“We’re encouraging people to enter a lot. If you make a pie, make two, enter both of them,” he added. “Same thing with brownies. Because Lillie Rice is going to sell whatever the judges don’t need.”

Competition judges, he added, will be looking for taste, texture and presentation. And definitely chocolate.

In compliance with public health regulations, all food items coming from a non-certified kitchen will be tagged as such, Burkhart noted.

The competition has several entrant categories, from restaurants to professional chefs to amateurs and children ages 8 to 14. There is no entry fee, and entries can be brought to the hotel from 7-9 a.m. on Saturday. Lip-licking judges will begin their hard work by 9:15 a.m.

The event will also feature a silent auction with a candy emphasis, Daudt said. Items will include chocolate high heel sculptures, a hefty, solid chocolate rabbit, wine and accompanying wine glasses and apothecary jars filled with treats.

Other items include hand-tied fishing flies, a “beautiful” quilt and local art and services, for those looking beyond their tastebuds, she added.

He didn’t mean for things to get so big on the first fundraising go-round, Burkhart said. The festival organizers, however, “refused to accept modest. What we really want to publicize is for people to make something chocolate and bring it in. That is really what the event is centered around.”

The biggest goal, however, is not for the tummy but for the heart, he and Daudt explained. Many people don’t know about Lillie Rice Center, which was established here in 1966 and presently serves about 100 clients. The agency has added and subtracted from its list of services over the years, and changed addresses here and there, but the core concept is steadfast — when people are given the chance to work, socialize in heathy ways and contribute to their community, it hits the “sweet” spot, Burkhart said.

And he wasn’t referring to chocolate.

For more information call Carla at 509-520-2249, Peggy at 509-200-1006, or go to www.lilliericecenter.org.

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