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ORLANDO/CENTRAL FLORIDA For 27 years, a group of volunteers in Central Florida worked with the national office of Share Our Strength to produce Orlando’s Taste of the Nation, an annual fund-raiser to support local and national childhood hunger-relief programs. But shortly after the August 2016 event, organizers began to explore disassociating from the national organization and taking on full management and production of the event locally.
“Under their umbrella, part of the proceeds we raised went back to Share Our Strength and that money was redirected into their national childhood hunger programs—which is great, except we thought, We have all these local chefs and beverage vendors and sponsors who are donating their time and efforts, so it make more sense to keep all that money in the community,” said Krista Logue, media chair for Taste! Central Florida, the new name for the event and the nonprofit that runs it. Under the original Taste of the Nation branding model, which Share Our Strength replicates in cities across the United States, Orlando’s local beneficiaries retained about 70 percent of the money raised.
The severity of the hunger issue across Central Florida—where Logue said one in four kids is at risk of going to bed hungry every night—also factored into the decision. “The idea of keeping that extra money here and being able to make a bigger impact locally was important,” she said. “And I think people like to know when they are coming to these events that their money is staying local.”
A steering committee of about 50 volunteers spent months after the 2016 event talking to chefs, sponsors, and vendors who had supported the fund-raiser in the past to ask if they would return if it was no longer associated with Share Our Strength. Logue said it was their resounding support, coupled with a commitment from volunteers on the steering committee, that convinced them to move forward. In March, organizers announced the new event, Taste! Central Florida to benefit Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida and Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida.
“The national folks were really supportive. We enjoyed a great relationship with them for 27 years, but they understood our reasoning for the separation,” Logue said.
The fund-raiser took place August 19 at the Orlando World Center Marriott—the same venue where it has been held for the last several years. It also included many of the same restaurants and beverage vendors from past years, with the addition of 12 new restaurants and a few more local beverage vendors, including Natalie’s Orchard Island Juice Company, Orange Blossom Brewing, and more.
For the event's 3,000 attendees, the difference was in name only. Behind the scenes, though, Logue said Taste! Central Florida had to develop new systems to manage the event. Second Harvest Food Bank agreed to take on the new local organization’s 501c3 status and to handle the event’s administrative functions, such as the ticketing system and silent auction platform, which had previously been handled by Share Our Strength.
Proceeds are still being tallied, but Logue said this year’s event raised more than $300,000, compared to $279,487 in 2016—and for the first time, all of that money stays in Central Florida.