Taste of Gumbo
Good times roll at PA Rotary's Taste of Gumbo
By Roger Cowles
The Rotary Club of Port Arthur will begin its second quarter century of serving gumbo and raising money when King Gumbo opens the doors at the Port Arthur Civic Center in March and as many as 5,000 hungry patrons stream in to sample the best Cajun offerings of local restaurants and organizations.
Gumbo, for anyone unfortunate enough to have not tried it yet, us a hearty, roux-based stew filled with the most flavorful ingredients of gardens and bayous in Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana. A Rotarian named Floyd Marceaux, Cajun connection obvious, and his cohort Ray Depwe and others in the Rotary Club of Port Arthur in 1986 brainstormed up a delicious fundraiser to be able to offer grants to benefit youth, seniors and those in need. The first Taste of Gumbo was held on a cool spring day in 1987.
As many as 20 restaurants and organizations set up booths around the perimeter of the Civic Center and are required to provide 40 gallons of Gumbo or an equivalent amount of another delicacy for patrons to sample. Rotarians sell tickets for $8 each, which allows the bearer unlimited samples of gumbo and other items. A popcorn booth offers free bags of popcorn and a dessert booth sells cakes and pies provided by Rotarians for $1.
Live music during the Taste of Gumbo has most recently been provided through the Commercial Music Program at Lamar State College-Port Arthur. During breaks in the music door prizes are awarded — hundreds of door prizes over the course of the three-hour event. Each Rotarian is responsible for providing door prizes. Over the years, patrons have learned that a generous number of door prizes will be given and it keeps people interested in staying through the entire event, even if they are full!
Since the Taste of Gumbo attracts large crowds, about 10 years ago a silent auction was added as another avenue to raise funds for the Rotary Club’s charitable efforts. Rotarians solicit local businesses for donations if items worth at least $25 for the silent auction. A partnership with a local art museum has been very successful in getting original artwork offered to the public in the auction, with the proceeds from the art being split between the artists and the Rotary Club. Rotarians such as our own member Frank Cricchio, who is a well known portrait and landscape photographer, offer some of their handiwork for sale in the silent auction to benefit Rotary’s causes.
The Taste of Gumbo, etc., and all its related activities keep the entire Rotary Club involved for months selling tickets and soliciting door prize and auction items. The Taste of Gumbo Committee, chair by King Gumbo, who is the club’s President Elect, begins work on the next year’s Gumbo not long after the lights go out on the current year’s event. Restaurants are given plaques of appreciation and asked to participate again next year. Rotarians are assigned to assist them if they need help with manpower.
After the event applications for grants are solicited. All the proceeds from the Taste of Gumbo, except the seed money that is kept from year to year to take care of expenses, is donated as grants to local organizations. The Rotary Club of Port Arthur gives away about $10,000 each year in grants, putting the total impact of the Taste of Gumbo at about $250,000 and growing over the life of the event. None of the money is used for Rotary expenses.
The Rotary Club of Port Arthur’s Taste of Gumbo, Etc. has become one of the highlights on the calendar for Southeast Texas each year. Friends and neighbors see each other each year and renew acquaintances and the restaurants are able to put their name and best cuisine before thousands of potential customers. And as they get together, they all know they are doing it to help others in their community — good food, good times and a good cause. As Rotarian Marceaux says: “Laissez les bons temps rouler”: Let the good times roll!
Rotary year 1986-87 gave birth to the Taste of Gumbo and was such a success it became an annual event.
Each year, area restaurants are invited to prepare and serve their favorite gumbo recipes at this event which is held at the Port Arthur Civic Center. The Rotary Club provides the organizational structure, and the member is required to sell tickets. Average attendance is approximately 3,000. The price of a ticket buys all the gumbo one can eat and an opportunity to win a major door prize.
Funds in excess of $11,000 have been raised each year and are used to help fund various charities selected each year. Following the event, each club presents appreciation plaques to the participating restaurants.
What: This year marks the 24th Annual Taste of Gumbo
When: March 19, 2011
Where: Port Arthur Civic Center
Time: 11:00am - 2:00pm
View the Taste of Gumbo 2010 Slide Show
2011 Event Assignments
Restaurant Registration Form
Silent Auction Donation Request Document
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