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‘Taste’ Volunteers tend to last-minute details

June 6, 2014 |

Melody Kerigan of Millie’s Pierogi checks to see if a Pierogi is done at the Taste of the Valley Chef’s Preview on June 3 at the Springfield Country Club.
Reminder Publications photo by Peter Spotts

By Carley Dangona

WEST SPRINGFIELD – Each year, people from Western Massachusetts descend upon West Side for its annual Taste of the Valley; what they might not realize is that it takes a small army of volunteers to put the event together.

Nearly 200 residents, business owners and town employees donate their time to put each facet of the Taste in place. This includes setting up vendor tents, placing trash cans in opportune spots, selling tickets, organizing the parking for the cars on display for the show, scheduling entertainment acts and acquiring rain insurance.

The Rotary Club of West Springfield oversees all of these operations and more, as its members are responsible for running the event. Planning for the Taste begins in September or October.

“It’s a huge amount of work, but the town loves it,” Rotary President Jay LeFebvre told Reminder Publications. He added that the event has generated $250,000 in revenue in the past 12 years. This year’s event, June 12 to 15, will be the 15th annual Taste.

Organizers conducted their next to last meeting prior to the event on June 3, immediately following a Chefs’ Preview for the Taste.

Last-minute tasks such as verifying set up times and which volunteer is responsible for overseeing each area were discussed. For the first time, this year’s event will be broadcast via Livestream and can be followed on Twitter @thetaste2014. For residents without Internet access, the event will also be rebroadcast on Public Access Channel 15.

Victoria Connor, director of the town’s Park & Recreation Department said, “It’s a huge collaboration with the town departments.” Connor is responsible the logistics of the setup. She said the Department of Public Works is “dedicated to the assist in set up of the event” and that the Police Department provides an officer on site during the Taste, including extra details during its peak hours.

Connor also oversees the placement of trash receptacles and schedules town staff to take shifts during the Taste.

District 3 City Councilor George Condon III is chair of the Rotary’s Taste subcommittee. This is his fourth year in the roll. “It’s a great event. It’s great to see the townspeople rallying behind it,” he said, adding that he “lives” at the Taste during its four days to ensure the affair goes off without a hitch.

Rotarian and at-large City Councilor George Kelly oversees the Cruise Night. His duties include scheduling the car show judges. The “Best of Show” and the top three cars will receive gift certificates to local restaurants and trophies. This element of the Taste will be hosted on Thursday evening, as opposed to its usual Saturday Night to include appearances by participants in the Goodguys All-American Nationals that is at Eastern States Exposition June 13 to 15.

“We try to break it [judging] up between really nice original cars and customized hot rods. We have showcased up to 85 cars at once. We’ll see what the weather has in store,” Kelly said.

When asked why West Side’s Taste has outlasted similar events, Condon credited the success to the “synergy” among the town, the Rotary, Massachusetts Lions District 33Y and Eastern States Exposition.

“You can’t drive through West Springfield without seeing it. The site is awesome. We’re not interrupting the businesses, people can walk or drive to the Taste and you don’t pay to get in,” Condon said.

The 2014 Taste of the Valley will take place from June 12 to 15 on the Park Street Town Common. In addition to the food vendors and Cruise Night, the festivities will also feature carnival rides; a free petting zoo complete with a camel; the Taste 5K Road Race to benefit Griffin’s Friends and the EvvGirl Foundation; and more than 10 musical acts including Noah Lis who appeared on “The Voice.” For a complete schedule of events, visit www.westsidetaste.com.

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