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Turning 25 isn’t necessarily a big deal … unless you’re a local fundraising event that hasn’t missed a year during that time period.
The Arc of Wilson County’s Taste of Wilson celebrates its 25th year on Tuesday, April 17, in the Fike High School gymnasium. VIP ticket holders can enter the food area at 5:30 p.m., while regular Taste ticket-holders enter at 6 p.m. Restaurants stop serving around 7:30 p.m.
The Taste of Wilson is the Arc’s largest fundraiser of the year, and proceeds from the event fund the organization’s Camp Sunshine, a five-week summer camp for school-age children with developmental disabilities.
The event began in 1993 while Kay Bunch served as the Arc of Wilson County’s executive director. Bunch had attended a national Arc convention when she heard about a similar fundraising event and thought it might succeed in Wilson.
“The first year we had about 12 to 15 restaurants, and it was very successful,” Bunch said. “Parker’s Barbecue and Something Different have been in it from the very beginning.”
Bunch credits the success of the Taste of Wilson to the family atmosphere and value.
“This is an event for families, and tickets are reasonably priced,” Bunch said. “The Taste of Wilson has been successful because of the value and because it is for the whole family.”
Still, Bunch is surprised at the longevity of the event.
“I really am surprised that it has lasted 25 years because fundraisers rarely do that,” Bunch said proudly.
The event’s format has basically remained the same, even though venues have changed. The first Taste was held in the Darden Alumni Center, the next year at the Wilson Agricultural Center, and for many years after that, at Wilson’s mall.
After the mall closed, the event moved to the Wilson Recreation Center for one year and has now been at Fike High School for several years.
“A few things have changed recently,” said Michael Stanford, the current Arc of Wilson County executive director, who will host his seventh Taste of Wilson this year. “Introducing the Top Taste competition, VIP tickets and letting restaurants be inside and outside are all new aspects of the event. Now, some restaurants actually cook outside, and we can also have food trucks.”
Stanford says 28 restaurants participated last year, and it looks like roughly the same number will be involved this year. New to this year’s roster are the new Wilson cajun restaurant Da Bayou, Get A Pizza This food truck and Ya’ll Eat Yet, a food truck from Raleigh.
The Taste of Wilson is a ticketed event with two ticket levels. A regular ticket allows the ticket holder to taste food from 10 restaurants for just $10 per ticket. For $25, VIP ticket holders are granted 30 minutes of early access to the event and are able to get a “taste” from every participating restaurant.
“It’s a fun time, the food is delicious, and all the restaurants come out to show what they’ve got,” Stanford said. “I encourage restaurants to try out new things and maybe hand out coupons. Something for people to think about is if you’re not sure you might like a certain menu at a restaurant, you can ‘test it out’ and get a sample at the Taste of Wilson and decide if you like it or not.”
Event favorite Chick-fil-A of Wilson will not be able to participate this year as the restaurant is currently undergoing renovations. However, the restaurant still wants to support the Taste of Wilson and is providing special door prizes for three lucky winners. Entering the contest for these prizes simply involves voting in the Top Taste competition, which can be found in the school’s cafeteria. The cafeteria also houses the Taste of Wilson’s silent auction items.
The silent auction is a major part of the fundraiser and offers hundreds of items on which to bid, including pottery, artwork, jewelry, athletic team merchandise and hundreds of gift certificates from area restaurants, museums, auto services, sporting and recreation events, hair salons, spas and many more. The auction runs from 6 to 8 p.m.
Taste of Wilson tickets are available at Cupcake Dream, Bill’s Grill and the Arc of Wilson office or online (a small fee is charged). Tickets can be mailed or left at the event’s will call booth. For more information, visit The Arc of Wilson County’s website at www.arcofwilsonnc.org or search on Facebook for the 25th Anniversary Taste of Wilson.