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Fundraiser offers sweet reward for youth programs

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It’s enough to make Willy Wonka jealous — and enough to generate several thousand dollars for a Columbus children’s reading program and a youth leadership effort.

The double-pronged impact of Friday’s 24th annual Taste of Chocolate fundraiser has organizers hoping it once again will attract about 2,000 people to FairOaks Mall.

The event will feature more than 30 vendors, including area restaurants, coffee shops, bakeries and grocers. They will donate pies, cakes, cookies, tortes and other chocolate treats, available for $3 each, just before Valentine’s Day.

Columbus resident Lindy Martin of Lindy’s Dessert Co. understands the gathering’s attraction, where she will be a vendor.

“My Dad used to say, ‘Chocolate is the nectar of the gods,’” Martin said. “Chocolate makes you feel good and always puts a smile on your face.”

If that’s the case, then there should be enough smiles to light the mall from 6 to 8 p.m.

Taste of Chocolate generated slightly less than $10,000 last year for Reading Is Fundamental, encouraging youngsters to find joy in books; and Youth Leadership Bartholomew County, teaching teens skills from resume writing to job interviewing.

“It’s always huge,” mall general manager Kim Showalter said. “We do see people with shopping bags, too, and we love the event.”

In the past, organizers have seen some people arrive an hour early to make sure they can get what they want when vendors begin serving.

Sometimes, some run out of their specialties.

Norma Smith of Columbus and a friend have attended the past four years. She will hardly be picky about her purchases this year.

“Just anything chocolate,” she said.

Her favorite treat last year? Chocolate chili.

“It was absolutely awesome,” Smith said. “Wonderful.”

Event co-leader Brooke Wettschurack believes the night’s success, planned since August, is a no-brainer.

“Part of it is because chocolate is such a comfort food,” said Wettschurack, who loves baking with chocolate at home.

Columbus’ Kim Kiel, owner of Ahlemeyer Farms Bakery, will prepare chocolate cream pies, Valentine cookies with chocolate lettering and peanut butter balls.

“It’s a good way to help the community,” Kiel said. “Plus, it’s good publicity and a lot of fun.”

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