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SWEET TASTE OF CHARITY: Local wine and chocolate festival helps fundraise for senior center services

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Chocolate and wine draw in festival-goers to an annual VOCAL fundraising event, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

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Valentine’s Day may be two weeks away, but the annual Wilmington Wine and Chocolate Festival (WWCF) will get folks in a lovingly sweet mood a little early. Going into its 12th year in raising money for local nonprofit Volunteer Older Citizens Action League (VOCAL), the organization benefited by raking in $30,000 from the festival in 2015.


LAUGH, EAT, DANCE! (left to right) Local comedian Basile will present “A Pinch of Basile” as El Jaye Johnson takes over the stage during the Wilmington Wine and Chocolate Festival’s Grand Tasting event on Friday evening. The Marketplace opens Saturday and Sunday for festival-goers. Courtesy photos.

“VOCAL is dedicated to raising awareness and money to support the activities and services available to seniors at the New Hanover County Senior Resource Center,” Marianna Stacy, WWCF’s lead coordinator, says. “They also act as an advisory board to the senior center and operate Senior Net, an ongoing program that teaches computer classes at the center.”

For 2016 festival organizers, sponsors and volunteers hope to surpass last year’s goal. The money supplements numerous services beyond activities and classes at the center. Last yeara, for example, medical transportation—funded by the senior center and for elders who do not receive assistance like Medicaid—faced budget cuts. VOCAL stepped in to allow it to continue for folks who needed dialysis, oncology treatments and other medical services.

“The center has an extensive waiting list for the home-delivered meals program, known as ‘Meals on Wheels,’” Stacy continues. VOCAL helped chip away at the waiting list and allowed delivery of daily, frozen reheatable meals to seniors in need.

“The visit by a delivery person is almost as important as the meal,” Stacy continues. “Many are isolated and don’t see anyone except the Meals on Wheels volunteer.”

The 2016 festival will kick off Friday with its Grand Tasting event. The party allows fest-goers a preshow peek at what’s offered by specialty food, wine and beer vendors. Plus, live music will heat up the dance floor all night long, as El Jaye Johnson plays from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. A photo booth will be onsite for folks to capture the festival spirit ($5 will allow participants to take home a 5-by-7). As well, laughs will be aplenty in the Riverview Room’s Cigar and Comedy Lounge.

“‘Cigar Girls’ in Cuban-themed attire will roam the Riverview, offering refills and raffle tickets for a chance to win a Michael Kors watch, courtesy of Reed’s Jewelry,” Stacy tells.

The humor will be provided by local well-known comedian Basile—who’s returned from a world tour, traveling from U.K. to Greece to Australia. His comedy is based on family and their daily situations surrounded by lunacy. He’ll present “A Pinch of Basile” at 8 p.m.

Plus, Basile’s very own Greek seasonings will be sold at the festival. Actually, the comedian has quite a culinary palate and has concocted a variety of spices perfect for all styles of dishes, herbivorous to carnivorous.

Atomic Cigars will hand-roll and offer cigars, as local Broomtail Craft Brewery will pour their handmade beer. Caricaturist Bill Smith will show off his hand at capturing festival-goers who meander through the WWCF Marketplace, which will be open with samples offered from the vendors. Sam Lawler of Catering Thyme will churn out hors d’oeuvre throughout the evening.

On Saturday and Sunday the Marketplace opens to the public. New vendors—including chocolatiers, artisans, wineries, and breweries—will join returning vendors, like Carolina Candy Company and Rumtastic Rum Cakes, among others. Newbies include: Madison Chocolatiers West, Pecan Jacks, Confections By Loralei, Goodies Chocolatiers, Baker’s Peanuts, Stoney Mountain Winery, Native Vines Vineyard & Winery, Slightly Askew Winery, Hinnant Vineyards & Winery, Cocktails with a Kick, Sea Love Salt Company, Jiri Kalina, Cutco Cutlery, Coastal Glassware, and Lavita Accents and Art.

Any gifts bought at the vendor stations can be checked at the WWCF’s new concierge services. “Staff and caregivers of Senior Helpers of Wilmington will man and operate the festival concierge services,” Stacy says. It will allow folks a chance to send their purchases for storage until they depart. Plus, they can have their purchases wrapped at the gift basket center.

On Saturday, beginning at 11:45 a.m., culinary demonstrations will take place throughout the day. First, however, WWCF will dedicate the stage to late chef Skip Laskody, who helped the festival get underway. Folks will learn a host of cooking tips in workshops like “Kabob Your Way to Healthy Eating” by GAMMS or “Vinaigrette 101” with Kristin Williams of Vom Foss Oil, Vinegars and Spices. “Chocolate-Dipped Treat” will be taught by Sue Papach, Chocolate Artist of So Sweet Chocolates and “DIY All-Natural Cocoa Facial Mask” will be hosted by Lisa Keenan, Carolina Natural Soaps.

Live music will permeate the Marketplace both days. Slated to play: local sax master Benny Hill; versatile acoustic guitarist Susan Savia; the two-person version of local rock band LaCi; funk and blues maestro El Jaye Johnson; sax player and gospel musician Darryl Donnell Murrill; and blues artist Rebekah Todd.

The event is a family affair and children are welcome to attend, as WWCF opens its Funtime Kids’ Korner and Playroom, hosted by the Cameron Art Museum and The Ability Garden of the New Hanover County Arboretum. Activities take place throughout the day and a playroom will be set up with Legos and kid-friendly concessions, including cotton candy and snow cones.

Though the tasty goodies and live entertainment should be enough of a draw for the community to help with VOCAL’s fundraising, anyone who wishes to help more can still volunteer at the event by going online,, and clicking on the volunteer tab. Those who cannot attend can still make a contribution by sending monetary donations to: VOCAL-New Hanover, Inc., 2840 S. College Rd., #132 Wilmington, NC, 28412. Tickets to the event can also be purchased online.

“VOCAL is dedicated to meeting the unmet needs of seniors in our community,” Stacy reminds.

To join the VOCAL board, mail a letter of interest to above address with full contact information.

Wilmington Wine and Chocolate Festival
Featuring Friday night’s Grand Tasting event, and the open Marketplace on Saturday and Sunday
Fri., Jan. 29, 7 p.m. – 10 p.m.
$45 / adv or $50 / door
Sat., Jan 30, 11 a.m. – 6p.m., and
Sun., Jan 31, noon – 4 p.m.
$15 / adv. or $20 / door

Tickets also available at Harris Teeter

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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