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Taste of Arlington Opens in Ballston

Food fest moves, includes new science tents.

When Taste of Arlington opens on Saturday, it will have quite a few additions, including a "Taste of Science" tent run by the National Science Foundation, that offers the opportunity to Create an Earthquake.

But the biggest change in this, Taste of Arlington’s 14th year, will be a change of venue, as the annual street fair and showcase for Arlington restaurants moves to Wilson Boulevard, the block outside Ballston Common Mall.

It may mean a sought after increase in attendance, as the event moves closer to a Metro than at its former home in the Village at Shirlington. But it also means a return home, in some ways.

"We’ve been in Shirlington for the last 13 years," said Jacob Morgan, a public affairs associate for Community Residences. But when Taste had its start, Morgan said, it was in Ballston, so a return to the mall is a return to its origins.

The annual event serves as a fundraiser for Community Residences, an Arlington-based non-profit agency that provides group homes and training throughout the Washington region for people with mental illness, or mental or physical disabilities.

Taste of Arlington usually brings in almost $500,000 in total contributions. Community Residences is hoping for a crowd of 10,000, so the group may clear between $30,000 and $50,000 after all costs for the event are paid – less than 1 percent of the group’s $14 million annual budget.

But it’s still an important part of that budget, Morgan said. Much of the organization’s budget comes from grants, from federal, state or local sources – all targeted toward specific programs.

The money raised by Taste of Arlington lets Community Residences fill in the gaps, giving pay raises, or making additions or repairs to group homes.

"Fifty thousand dollars will pay a couple months of grocery bills," said Denise Marshall Roller, director of public affairs for Community Residences.

Taste often serves as more of a publicity event, she said, raising awareness about Community Residences, the restaurants and the groups that set up booths. But it does add flexibility to the group’s budget, she said.

<b>A LITTLE TASTE</b> of science will rub elbows with Arlington’s restaurants at the "Taste of Science" tent, a first-time addition to this year’s Taste of Arlington from the National Science Foundation.

It seemed like a natural idea, said Kim Silverman, a spokeswoman for the NSF. After all, this year Taste is literally in the foundation’s backyard.

It also lets the foundation expand its reach in the community, she said. Usually, grants go to companies or colleges, and the scientists often deal with adults or college students. But Saturday, they will offer activities geared toward elementary and middle school students.

"We have a lot of things that would be great for little children, up to middle school," Silverman said. They include an inflatable planetarium and star show, from the NSF’s Gemini observatory in Hawaii; servings of ice cream frozen in a container surrounded by liquid nitrogen; and a Create Your Own Earthquake booth.

"That’s an Irish consortium that has a museum quality piece they take around," Silverman said. "There’s a drum and children jump on that, and it registers as an earthquake. Then it connects to their Web site, and compares it to earthquakes happening around the world."

<b>"IT MAKES ME</b> want to be a parent," said Susan Anderson, catering manager at Whitlow’s on Wilson. "I’m telling all my friends with kids" to come for the Taste of Science tent.

That’s the advantage of adding the Taste of Science this year, she said – it expands the audience for Taste of Arlington. Parents can bring their children for the Taste of Science, younger couples can come for live music, and everyone stays to try the food.

"It now seems like a more comprehensive kind of Arlington event," she said. "I don’t want to say anything against Shirlington, but there are so many opportunities this year, being near the Metro."

Attendance at last year’s Taste of Arlington was down, mostly due to unexpected showers. "I think that’s definitely going to change this year," Anderson said.