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Food, fun, philanthropy mark annual Rotary Club festival

Shelly Kelly (L-R), Encinitas Educational Foundation; Sandy Houk, Encinitas Rotary Wine & Food Festival co-chair; Mike Walsh (at rear), president, Encinitas Rotary Club; Richard Houk, Encinitas Rotary Wine & Food Festival co-chair. Courtesy photo

By Joe Tash

Good food and wine, several hundred good friends, a beautiful garden setting, and tens of thousands of dollars raised for nonprofit groups.

That’s the formula for the annual Encinitas Rotary Wine and Food Festival, which has proven to be spectacularly successful over the past 11 years.

This year’s edition, held in June, attracted 1,100 guests and raised $121,000 for 21 different charities, said Richard Houk, a Rotary member and co-chairman of the annual event with his wife, Sandy.

The charities received their checks from the Rotary Club at a luncheon held in August.

“It’s a wonderful organization; I can’t thank them enough for all they’ve done for the Jonathan Tarr Foundation,” said Robin Tarr, founder and CEO of the Encinitas-based group, which raises money for scholarships for students graduating from alternative high schools in San Diego and Imperial counties.

The foundation is named after Tarr’s 17-year-old son, Jonathan, who died in an auto accident. This year, the foundation raised $5,200 from the Rotary event, enough to pay for seven scholarships of about $150 apiece, said Tarr. Each year, the foundation hands out a total of 25 to 30 scholarships.

To participate in the Rotary Club’s annual fundraising event, groups such as Tarr’s are asked to help sell tickets to the event, find sponsors, provide items that can be sold at the silent auction, and volunteer with setup and cleanup. In return, they receive financial support, without having to organize and stage their own fundraisers.

The nonprofits also get a chance to promote their causes to the attendees, and across the community.

“Where would we get this kind of exposure except for the Encinitas Rotary Club? It’s worth it all around,” said Tarr.

The event has grown exponentially since it was first held in 2004. That first year, Houk said, the event helped four or five charities and raised $27,500.

Over the 11 years, he said, the event has raised more than $800,000 total.

“We’re hoping to break a million in funds raised after next year’s event,” he said, which is already in the planning stages.

The groups that participate are called “charity partners,” and fall into two categories: community and children’s charities.

This year’s partners covered a wide spectrum of causes and activities, including the Cardiff Soccer League, the Magdalena Ecke Family YMCA, San Diego North Coast Singers, Community Resource Center, Intrepid Shakespeare Company and Microloans for Mothers.

Some 30 organizations and individuals sponsored this year’s event, including the Rainsford Foundation, Scripps Health, Charlie’s Foreign Car Service and Pacific Eye Care.

People can register online for the event, and designate which charity they want to support, said Houk. For this year’s event, tickets were available at the $90, $135 and $500 levels.

The Encinitas Rotary Club has about 90 members, and everyone gets involved in the various aspects of putting on the annual event.

“We say, ‘All hands on deck,’” said Houk. “It’s a pretty intensive type of operation.”

The charity partners, or beneficiaries, work right alongside Rotary members.

“We want them to have stake or skin in the game — they have an investment in the success of the event,” he said.

The Rotary Club is actively involved in a number of philanthropic endeavors, in addition to the wine and food festival. The group holds an annual youth soccer tournament, and also has its own foundation that provides scholarships and services for seniors.

“These people are committed to making a difference,” said Houk about his fellow Rotarians. “‘Service above self’ is the Rotary motto, and they take it very seriously.”


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