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Another Great Falls Event Needs More Volunteers

GFBPA address concerns of volunteers, restaurant owners in light of Taste.

Next year’s Taste of Great Falls celebration will need better organization, more volunteers and a greater involvement by the restaurants that participate, if it’s going to be a success, members of the Great Falls Business and Professional Association decided at a meeting Tuesday night.

“The good news is, we had a wonderful event and great weather,” said Terry Graves, organizer of the Taste of Great Falls, held in October.

“The bad news is, we have to have volunteers to do this again. It takes a lot of work,” he said, and unless there are more volunteers to help do the work, the event may be in danger of not happening in the future.

“We had a 10 percent increase in the number of tickets sold (for food items) over 2003, so we think we had an increase in the number of people that attended,” he said.

The event also produced what Graves called a “small surplus,” after all costs were paid, part of which was given to the Brogue Charities for distribution to local charities and the rest will be used for next year’s event.

However, if the event continues to grow for its third year and beyond, more volunteers will be needed to handle the work involved in organizing and holding the event, he said.

“If you want to participate, if you make a commitment to participate, you need to keep it,” he told members of the Great Falls Business and Professional Association at their fall meeting Tuesday. “There are a number of ideas we’re talking about for next year, but we need help.”

“WE HAD 70 PEOPLE volunteer last year who gave a lot of time and effort,” said Christine Graves, co-chair of the event. “These people came in very straightforward, some worked for both shifts because someone else couldn’t make it or for whatever reason. But this is the backbone of the Taste.”

She said that maybe if the GFBPA took on some responsibilities to form subcommittees, breaking up the work would require each person to spend less time, as a whole, on the event.

“If it’s going to endure, we need your help,” she said.

The greater benefit of having the Taste of Great Falls isn’t which restaurants make the most, if any, profit from the event, but rather the opportunity for the community to come out and spend a day together, said Association member George Adeler.

“Nothing compares with the benefits of working together on an event. It builds friendships,” Adeler said. “It’s a win-win situation. We have to get into the mode of getting out of our routines and do this for the community.”

He mentioned the concern in Great Falls that the “energy is being drained” from volunteers, many of whom offer their time to several events, like the Taste, the Fourth of July events sponsored by the Great Falls Friends, and the Halloween party put on by the Optimist Club.

“Great Falls has 6,000 households. We need to make the base of volunteers higher,” he said. “If it doesn’t get into the spirit of the people (to volunteer), the events will all collapse.”

LINDA THOMPSON, a member of the Association and also the Optimist Club, suggested sending out an e-mail to potential volunteers to try to secure their involvement for next year. “There have also been several people in the restaurant business that have been having second thoughts about doing this again, so we might want to get a commitment from them as well,” she said, suggesting that the Taste of Great Falls may not have many restaurants participating in 2005.

“Restaurants lose more money in this event than they make,” said Terry Graves. “They do it for the community.”

“We’ve talked about having a meeting with the owners in January or February because we need to ask them for their help and also for a commitment,” Christine Graves said.

“We have to look at the profitability of the event for the restaurants,” said Mike Kearney, owner of the Old Brogue Irish Pub and curator of the Brogue Charities. “We need to see if we can give more back to the restaurants. I know there are some restaurants concerned, and [they] could make more money next year by not participating.”

“There’s no way you’ll get the volunteers to work for free if the businesses are profiting,” Adeler said, adding that the majority of the profits from the event are given to charity.

“THIS IS FOR THE COMMUNITY. Restaurants do this to get exposure.”

“I only see one restaurant owner at this meeting tonight. Where are the rest of them?” asked Harold Smith, a Realtor. “We put this event on for them. Are they not members of the BPA, or did they just not attend?” he said.

Association member Stephan Dulaney said the restaurant owners will be invited to join when he sends out invoices for next year, along with thanking them for participating in the Taste in October.

“We’d talked about inviting them here tonight, but it came down to a function of time,” he said. “The level of participation in the event was tremendous. It’s been a tremendous amount of time and energy.”

The question of volunteers came up again, with chairman Ralph Lazaro commenting that the “number of volunteers [is] being dwindled. We’ve got to make some plans for people to take charge, because in many cases, it’s the same people for 10 years.”

“There are two types of volunteers,” Terry Graves said. “There are people who volunteer the day of the event, and there are volunteers on committees. I think our volunteer drive should get started earlier … we’d like you all to participate in the committees.”

“Terry wants to have the restaurants involved” in the event’s planning, Christine Graves said. “It gives them a sense of ownership, which is huge.”

“This stuff we’re talking about needs to be said in a general meeting,” Kearney said. “We need to get all the clubs and organizations together. The community needs to know what each group is responsible for, because they don’t know.”

He suggested that maybe the best solution would be to combine the Taste of Great Falls with some other events, turning a widespread calendar of volunteer-time into one single weekend event in the summer.