Just in time for spring's NCAA "March Madness" college basketball tournament, the 16th Annual "Taste of the Town," a family-oriented fund-raising tradition of the Council for the Arts of Herndon featuring food from 25 local restaurants, arrives at the Worldgate Center on the evening of March 22.
"This is the big one for us," said Jessica Hartz, director of public affairs for the arts council. "We only have two big [fund-raisers] each and this is the one that always brings in the most money."
This year's theme is "March Madness," a reference to the annual college tournament, with "hoop shooting" opportunities with area residents and local athletes, police and the Herndon Town Council, as well as a sampling of foods, an open bar staffed by Herndon council members and town staff and a live and silent auction featuring a variety of items.
Last year's Taste of the Town event, which had a Mardi Gras theme and hosted approximately 500 people, helped the council to raise more than $21,000, breaking all previous records, according to Hartz. This year, the arts council is looking to top that figure.
"We always hope to raise the bar more from the last year, and it always is a challenge," Hartz said. "But it's a fun challenge, and one we always hope to beat."
All of the funds raised from the door as well as money earned from the open bar, a cash raffle and the auctions go directly to the arts council's scholarships for students of the arts, grants to other community art organizations and the arts council's technology in the arts competition, amongst other things, she added. The ars council's other annual fund-raising event is its August golf competition sponsored with Jimmy's Old Town Tavern of Herndon.
WITH A $20 entrance fee — $15 for arts council members — participants of the event will get all-you-can-eat access to the 25 different local restaurants participating, as well as access to the live and silent auctions. Children 12 years of age and under get in for free.
It's the different kind of fund-raising atmosphere that keeps the area residents coming back every year, said Grace Wolf, arts council president.
"Every non-profit has a fund-raiser and usually they're a black tie event, you go in, sit down and you can't bring the kids," Wolf said. "This is the exact opposite of that."
The food is also as eclectic as Herndon, she added, noting that several of the locally-based restaurants serve international cuisine.
"You never know, you'll probably stumble upon a restaurant or a type of food that you didn't even know about before," Wolf said.
Among the basketball-related activities, food and drink, participants will also experience the musical performance of Herndon High School junior Emma Bailey.
"This girl is homegrown and she's absolutely amazing," said Wolf. "Between the games, the entertainment and the food you eat, it's just a blast."
THE EVENT'S annual live and silent auctions are also a mainstay, said Hartz, who added that this year a cornucopia of different things donated from members of the community with a range of prices would be auctioned off.
Among those items are artistic recreations of ancient tribal artifacts donated from the U.S. ambassador to Fiji, original Star Wars artwork from Dave Dorman, and tickets to Washington Nationals baseball games, according to Wolf.
This year's celebrity auctioneer, former president of the arts council and owner of Herndon's Tortilla Factory, Chuck Curcio, is a returning favorite.
"Whenever I do the auction, I have a tendency to move it along," Curcio said with a laugh. "But they always have a great variety of items up for auction."
Between the variety of activities, the all-you-can-eat food and the amazing auction, the "Taste of the Town" is one of those things that makes Herndon an original community to live in, Curcio added.
"It's an event worth attending," he said. "It's a great opportunity to meet your neighbors in Reston and Sterling and at the same time support a local organization."