08/15/07 — United Way kicks off with Taste of hope

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United Way kicks off with Taste of hope

By Anessa Myers
Published in News on August 15, 2007 1:45 PM

The sun was bright, and tents were packed. Lines wrapped around corners for tiny bites of the best food in town. It looked like a carnival, but the Taste of Wayne County had something else to offer -- a chance to change lives.

The Taste had another successful year, and the United Way is ready to do the same starting with the organization's campaign kickoff officially beginning early Tuesday evening.

United Way campaign chairman Jimmie Ford added excitement to the air as he began his inspirational speech to open the festivities.

"I am fired up," he said. "Looks like someone put some matches to my butt. Woo hoo!"

Ford said his enthusiasm needs to be contagious enough to spread through Wayne County.

"We need to be happy," he said before his rendition of 'If You're Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands.'

Ford said he believes the campaign -- and Wayne County -- can accomplish anything. United Way's goal is to improve 29,200 lives by raising $1.46 million.

"And you know what?" Ford asked. "We are going to do it. We are going to touch people's lives. You will be a part of that. We are trying to get everybody to help."

But Ford warned, the participation must start now.

"This is just what?" he asked. "The beginning. We cannot procrastinate. The campaign is over Dec. 26, and when it's over, we want to shout 'hallelujah.'"

Ford said that the money raised will change neighbors' lives.

"It is amazing what a few dollars and hearts can do," he said.

Some of those hearts melted when Joey Edwards, a United Way beneficiary featured in the "Portraits of Promise" campaign, sang "Amazing Grace".

His song, and his story, had many of those present in tears.

"United Way is a very, very important part of my life," Edwards said. "They stepped in when I needed help the most. I can move forward instead of going backward in life. I would be lost without them."

He had been in shelters and now owns his home. He is in college studying to be a substance abuse counselor, and he wants to start helping the community as soon as he can, beginning with children.

But Edwards remains grateful for the United Way's help, encouraging others to join him to keep improving people's lives.

"I just want to let you all know you can make a difference in a life," he said. "Without you all, this would not be possible."

While singing, Edwards stood next to Mason Bland, 10, who gave his $50 of birthday money to the campaign.

"He was trying to think about what he wanted to do with it," said Blands' mother. "Then he read the article in the paper about a child donating his birthday money, and he said, 'I want to do that.'"

Others at the kick-off were also there, in some part, because of United Way efforts.

One of these people was Penelope Taylor, who was in a car crash in high school. She needed multiple units of blood to survive -- and United way partner, the Red Cross, was there.

"I wouldn't be alive if not for United Way," she said.

She knows she cannot give all that blood back now, but she is trying to contribute to the community by participating in this year's campaign.

Some have already started their campaigns and are ready to continue.

The Frontrunners' United Way campaign began July 27, and within two weeks, the local businesses and organizations have raised numbers and eyebrows.

Wayne Memorial Hospital was at the forefront of the Frontrunners, raising close to $150,000 to date.

Moffatt Oil raised $2,738 to improve 55 lives. Wayne County Public Library raised $6,892 to improve 138 lives. Excell Home Fashions raised $13,000 to improve 260 lives. Daniels and Daniels Construction Co. improved 123 lives with $6,136, and Southco Distributing improved 262 lives with $13,130. Strickland Insurance increased its contribution to 17 percent from last year to improve 230 lives with $11,503. Wayne Community College raised $20,247, and Cooper Bussmann raised $13,285. Improving 65 lives, Wayne Realty raised $3,206.

And the news is still coming in, United Way officials said.

After excitement, tears, talk of money and cheers, the Taste doors opened at 5 p.m. with hungry people ready to eat and vendors ready to compete.

Both experienced and new vendors at the Taste won awards.

Best breakfast food went to Wayco Ham Co., a long-time participant in the Taste. New vendor J J Ashley Bakery and Gourmet Foods won two awards: best dessert and best breads and pastries.

The pizza war finally came to an end with Pizza Inn coming out on top with the best pizza award.

There were also some ties.

Best healthy food went to both Bonfire's Tortilla Bar and Lane Tree Golf Course Grill, while best comfort food went to Delta Rib Shack and Levy's Soul Cafe.

Bonfire's Tortilla Bar also won best fast food, and Levy's Soul Cafe won its second award of the night for best pub grub and appetizers.

China House won best international fare, while Koi Asian Bistro won best special occasion dinner.

Best cold drink went to Pepsi Bottling Co.

The biggest awards of the night were the People's Choice Award.

Brooklyn Pizzeria came away with first place. Murphy's Place was second, and Y'alls Pizza and Pies won third.