United Way of Wayne County staff has canceled what was to have been the 31st annual Taste of Wayne.

The Taste of Wayne, usually in October, is a fundraiser for the United Way that involves close to 30 restaurants that gather downtown and provide ticket-holders with food samples.

The pandemic also led to a reinvented Taste of Wayne in 2020 that involved residents purchasing $15 coupon books to use at participating restaurants, which offered food samples, by the end of the year, said Ashlee Fritz, United Way resource development director.

“Last year we were in the thick of it (pandemic), and we were lucky enough in the beginning of the year to recognize that it wasn’t going away,” she said. “It went OK last year.”

But with the more recent surge in COVID-19 variants, the United Way board decided to cancel the Taste of Wayne this year.

“Our board of directors collectively gathered information over the past couple weeks and from the progression of the variant, to take the precautionary measures, public safety and health are first and foremost with us with any kind of event that we put on,” Fritz said.

“We certainly wouldn’t want to cause an outbreak or encourage people to come out and then get sick. It’s unfortunate and very disappointing, but it’s also a little bit of relief I think for our restaurants that have shouldered a lot of the brunt of COVID, hits with staffing and supplies, things like that that they couldn’t control and are still suffering from.”

Fritz said the United Way did get some commitments for this year’s Taste of Wayne from local restaurants. After deciding to cancel the event, restaurant operators were asked for alternative suggestions.

“We hate to not have it,” Fritz said. “We recognize that it’s a big community event, and it’s fellowship. Whenever you gather around food, it’s always great, even better so that it’s only Wayne County restaurants.

“Maybe we’ll do a contest or maybe we’ll do something later, in the beginning of the year, hopefully things (will) have calmed down. Our main goal here is to prevent the spread, especially in the vulnerable community.”

Since it began 31 years ago, the Taste of Wayne has been held at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, Wayne Community College and in downtown Goldsboro.

With the fundraiser being canceled, United Way is making up the loss of the money through annual Taste of Wayne sponsors.

“They have been incredibly generous and were willing and able to step up this year,” Fritz said.

She said the Taste of Wayne is an event where people pay an entry fee then get to sample food from local restaurants.

“You get a little sampling,” she said. “It’s everything from sweets to steak to Italian. It gives the restaurants the opportunity to market their food and even try out new foods.”

Fritz said about 1,000 people usually attend the Taste of Wayne.