Sweet stuff: Annual chocolate festival benefits Hospice, supports local businesses

Lee and Rhonda Thomason sample one of the many chocolate treats available at the 2018 Hospice Chocolate Festival on Sunday, Feb. 18. Rhonda encouraged her husband to try the “amazing” bananas and chocolate sauce.

Picture a large room filled with chocolate in all colors, shapes and sizes. There’s fudge, cake pops and cookie dough available in nearly unlimited amounts, like something out of a childhood dream. That dream was a reality for attendees of the Hospice Chocolate Festival on Feb. 18 at the Sloan Convention Center.

Now in its 31st year, the festival raises money through ticket sales and a silent auction for Hospice of Southern Kentucky, which provides end-of-life care to people of all ages. It’s a hotspot for local businesses and national chains alike, with familiar names like Chaney’s Dairy Barn and Chick-fil-A handing out free samples of sweet menu items and lesser-known vendors from around the region.

McKinsey Mudd, volunteer coordinator for Hospice, said the chocolate festival is an important fundraiser for Hospice of Southern Kentucky. She said it brings in money every year to benefit patients in their facility by making them comfortable.

“It has been extremely successful, and all the money raised goes to providing care to our patients who are unable to pay,” Mudd said. “We never turn anyone away because of their inability to pay.”

Michelle Wheeler, an attendee of the festival, said she’s been going to the festival for the last four years due to her personal connection with Hospice.

“My mom was in Hospice,” Wheeler said. “They were great to her.”

Kellie Hammer, marketing director for Hospice of Southern Kentucky, said about 40 booths set up camp at this year’s festival, and attendance fell somewhere between 1,200 and 1,600 people, although the exact number couldn’t be pinpointed until all at-the-door sales had been counted up.  

Among the booths offering samples was Raw, one of Bowling Green’s newest businesses. Raw is a student-operated shop specializing in edible, raw cookie dough located downtown. Representing the store was co-owner Chloe Hohlbein of Paducah, a senior majoring in public relations. Hohlbein said the event had been good for business overall, citing the attendees who, after trying the dough portioned out on small plastic spoons, seemed inclined to stop by the shop and make purchases, and the publicity the cookie dough store got from the chocolate festival.

“A lot of people that didn’t know about us got to learn [about our business]…we got a lot of people who may not have come in to try us out hopefully got people to continue coming in,” Hohlbein said. “It was definitely a positive experience.”

This sentiment seemed a common one among vendors, who found the festival an invaluable opportunity to get the word out about their products and services.  

All net proceeds from the Kittawa Sprangs Dippin Sauce business benefit the Kentucky United Methodist Homes for Children and Youth, a nonprofit organization that seeks to provide residential care to young people suffering neglect, abuse and abandonment.

Aside from vendors and chocolate samples, activities and offerings included live music throughout the festival by local bands and performing youth, as well as the annual Oreo-eating contest, which Hammer said featured “local celebrities.”

This year’s roster featured WKU’s Big Red, Roscoe of Hot Rods and professional wrestler Seth “The Maple Leaf Monster” LeDuc, as well as two-time winner and reigning champ Travis Norton, among others. Norton emerged victorious, downing a stunning 26 cookies within the two-minute time limit and earning his third consecutive win.  

Anna and Elsa from “Frozen” joined Big Red and Roscoe in greeting the children in attendance, and the younger population also enjoyed such perks as a free candy bag and a face-painting booth. The festival was billed as a family-friendly event, a claim evident by the guests’ ages, which ranged from infant to senior citizen.

Hammer estimated that the festival raised about $30,000 for Hospice of Southern Kentucky, which she said would be put toward the organization’s mission of providing a pain-free and dignified home environment in the final days of terminal illness, regardless of an individual’s ability to pay.

A previous version of this story said proceeds from Raw went to Kentucky United Methodist Homes for Children and Youth. The proceeds were actually from Kittawa Sprangs Dippin Sauce, not Raw. The Herald regrets the error.

Features reporter Sarah Yaacoub can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @SarahYaacoub1.

News reporter Natasha Breu can be reached at 808-343-7632 and [email protected]