MEDINA — The weather outside might have been frightful Saturday, but it was as cozy as a cup of hot cocoa in the Medina High School Performing Arts Center as chocoholics gathered for the annual For the Love of Chocolate Festival.
People crowded the halls to pay homage to their favorite sweet while raising money for the American Red Cross of Medina County.
The 14th annual fundraiser, with the J.M. Smucker Co. as title sponsor, featured luscious offerings such as mint truffles, buckeyes, strawberries enrobed in chocolate, thickly frosted gourmet brownies and dark chocolate cake filled with whipped chocolate ganache donated by 42 chocolatiers from Northeast Ohio.
“We have lots of newcomers this year,” said Beth Kilchenman, executive director of the American Red Cross of Medina County, as she read the list, citing Genesis Party Center in Creston, Wadsworth Giant Eagle, Burbank Parke, Geyer-Hawkins and Waggoner Chocolates of North Canton as several of the new participants joining the ranks that included Diabetic Delights, The Center Café of Medina County Career Center and McJak Candy Co.
As soon as the doors opened, people clutching white Styrofoam boxes and tickets for samples made a beeline for their favorite confections. Long lines of the chocolate-hungry formed while chocolatiers hurried to keep the chocolate coming at stations throughout the school halls and cafeteria.
One table also featured the wares of the Children’s Chocolate Cookie Contest and Adult Decadent Chocolate Dessert baking contest winners — and with 70 entrants this year, there was plenty from which to choose.
“I’m taking mine home,” said Lois Mehalic of Parma Heights, as employees of Geyer-Hawkins added a brownie to her collection of delectables.
Visitors crowded around tables in the dining area to compare and share the contents of their containers as they sipped the Madd Chef’s chocolate cardamom chai or tall cups of hot chocolate topped with whipped cream, courtesy of Yours Truly.
Arno Kremer, general manager of Yours Truly, estimated they would distribute about 64 gallons of hot chocolate before the four-hour event ended.
“Next year we’re bringing my mom, who lives in New York,” said Cynthia Hankin of Medina, watching while her husband, Mike, perused the offerings at Waggoner Chocolates. “She loves chocolate, and she’ll think she went to heaven here.”
Joel Waggoner, whose grandfather founded the Harry London chocolate empire, said he never thought he’d go into the business. But after completing military service and school, he spent his next 20 years up to his elbows in chocolate. When the business was sold in 2003, he started his own company and set out “to make great chocolate.”
He works in the original North Canton factory built by his grandfather in 1954 and offers 200 different products.
Waggoner said he already is making plans for next year’s festival, a sentiment shared by the other chocolatiers — and chocoholics like Jane Rych of Westfield Center.
“This is a great fundraiser, and a great way for small businesses to advertise,” Rych said.
“I think this must be the most successful nonprofit event in the county,” said Medina County Auditor Michael Kovack, who acted as emcee. “Everyone seems to like the new venue (at the Performing Arts Center). Last year we had to contend with the blizzard.”
“We’ve gone from an event that raised $10,000 the first year to one that brings in about $40,000,” Kilchenman said. “We couldn’t do this without the generosity of the chocolatiers, the sponsors and media support.”
This year’s event raised $33,000, the Red Cross said.
Kilchenman said proceeds benefit the Red Cross’ emergency assistance fund, which provides services to military families or people displaced by fire or natural disasters, as well as disaster preparedness.
Contact Judy A. Totts at email@example.com.
Seventy contestants competed for top honors in the 2011 For the Love of Chocolate Festival’s adult Decadent Chocolate Dessert and children’s Chocolate Cookie contests. The competition, held one day prior to the Saturday festival, featured student, hobby cook and professional cook divisions.
The winners, listed first, second and third, respectively, are:
Professional — Michael McBride, Peggy Berry and Sarah and Lauri Burke;
Adult hobby — Michelle Kramer, Lilly Selva, Heather Newman;
High school — Samantha Schaffer, Danielle Haney, Wendy Yount;
Middle school — Theresa Lanahan, Brook Lanahan, Grady Newman;
Elementary — Kim Schust, Meghan Hummel, Caleb Hanshaw;
Preschool — Tiffani Hydash and Mario Briseno.
Kevin Chaney, Doug Turnbaugh, Melody Costello, Kristy Jones, Missy Slayton, Nancy Johnson, Amy White, Jim Frolich, Meg Frolich, Rob Pengalo, Wendy Yount, Julia Petri, Lynn Kelly, Ellen Chaney and Ted Pechatitis served as judges.