Rotary Club Wine Festival Rains Good Fortune on Local Charities

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By MJ KOBLOCK

For most outdoor events, a rainy day means people won’t show up. Some organizations see showers in the weather forecast and just cancel their events. Not the Chesapeake Rotary Club. A hurricane, two nor’easters and just plain rain won’t keep the Chesapeake Virginia Wine Festival from happening at City Park. The organizers plan around it and encourage supporters to dress for the weather.

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In its fourth year, the Chesapeake Virginia Wine Festival has raised more than $600,000 to support an assortment of local charities. Presented by the Rotary Club in mid-October, it has a reputation as one of the premier charity fundraisers of the year in Hampton Roads. All of the money raised at the event goes toward select organizations to fund projects in Chesapeake.

Rotarians Scott Danner and his uncle, Roland Davis, co-chair the event. It all began several years ago, when Danner was relatively new to the Rotary Club.

“I joined the Rotary Club, and I realized that all of these people were together and we could really do something special,” said Danner.

When the organization was ready to choose a new fundraiser, Danner suggested a wine festival. He recalls with a smile that it barely beat out a barbecue dinner in a close vote. Danner and Davis worked together to learn as much as they could about putting on a wine festival. They garnered knowledge and information from other clubs across the country and formed new ideas to make it work in Chesapeake.

“We sold something that didn’t exist,” said Danner. “We took something out of nothing. We’ve just learned everything we can. Four years into it, we’re still learning.”

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It takes between 100 and 200 volunteers to staff the festival, which this year featured more than 200 wines, 30 chalets and more than 150 vendors. Sixteen Virginia wineries attended, each bringing five to 15 selections for attendees to taste. With another 30 international wines and 10 from California, Oregon and the west, there was surely a vintage to please every palate. Danner worked with Total Wine and Associated Distributors to plan the event. It took four days to set up the Chesapeake City Park grounds.

Inclement weather has plagued every Chesapeake Virginia Wine festival, including a light but steady rain this year. And yet, people still come out in large numbers, buy tickets for admission and make the event a success.

Rotarian Don Buckley, who manned one of the picnic shelter stations at the event, explained that there are several reasons why people come to the Chesapeake Wine Festival despite stormy weather.

“I think they’re people who know what we do here for the charities, and people who have been at one of our previous events,” said Buckley. “This is our fourth. The weather has proved not to be a hindrance, and most importantly, they enjoy it.”

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The festival typically brings in about $150,000 each year. While there are other wine festivals in the area, none of them donate the proceeds to multiple charities. A special festival charity committee is formed every year to divvy up the money. Different non-profit groups put in requests for funding from the event’s proceeds, and the committee designates one main beneficiary and a handful of other non-profits to receive smaller portions.

Charities that have received past proceeds from the event include Chesapeake Regional Medical Center Sid Oman Cancer Center, Boys and Girls Club of Chesapeake, HERR Shelter, Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters and the Coats for Kids project. Any regional organizations that receive funding must keep the money in Chesapeake programs.

“It’s a great success for the charities,” said Rotarian and festival volunteer Doug Davis. “You’ve got all these people coming out on a rainy day, and it’s a great benefit for the charities. It’s putting a lot of money back into the community.”

Dave Zobel, executive director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southeast Virginia, knows how important that funding can be.

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“It’s a lifeline for us,” he said.

With 11 clubs throughout the seven Hampton Roads cities, assistance for the two clubs that operate in Chesapeake is critical.

The Boys and Girls Clubs focus on a Formula for Impact that includes emphasis on academics, good character and promoting a healthy lifestyle. The 503 children enrolled in the Chesapeake programs range from kindergarten through eighth grade and are served in three main ways. They are given a safe place to stay weekdays after school until their parents can pick them up, which is sometimes as late as 8 p.m. They eat dinner at the Kids CafĂ©, which is set up at two base school cafeterias and funded by the organization. They have Power Hour to study and do their homework. Staff workers are available for homework help if it’s needed. The kids then go to the art room for activities and the gym for fun fitness and games. They play dodge ball, have races and play board games, for example.

“You are always racing to get to break-even, as far as expenses,” said Zobel.

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With an operating budget of $311,000 between the two Chesapeake clubs, the programs are meant to be an affordable daycare option for parents and guardians who work. The budget includes staff members and cafeteria workers, art supplies, game equipment and insurance coverage, among other things.

Zobel says that it’s difficult for some local non-profit organizations to survive without help from the Rotary Club fundraiser.

“We are just grateful that there were hundreds of volunteers out there,” said Zobel. “They’ve done a great job serving the community and meeting human needs.”

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