Tickets still available for Vero's Top Chef Qualifier
By Jessica Creagan
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY -- The dinner table is where food and family come together for great memories, but when you have to give up your home, live in the woods, sleep on a friend's couch or pack all your belongings in a car, family meals aren't a priority any more.
The Homeless Family Center provides shelter and a dinner table for up to 20 struggling families at a time without permanent homes year-round, thanks to grants and generous donations from the community.
The next opportunity to support the nonprofit will be both fun and tasty, said Mary Ellen Maguire, executive director for the center.
On Jan. 27, the Vero Beach Elks Lodge No. 1774 will host the sixth annual Vero's Top Chef Challenge qualifying event, where 11 local chefs will prepare delightful dishes for attendees to taste. Guests will be asked to vote for the chef they believe prepared the best culinary creation and the top four vote getters will advance to the Vero's Top Chef Challenge Finale in March, a press release said.
The event and tastings will begin at 6 p.m. Two levels of tickets are available; mix and mingle tickets with no seating are $45 per person and VIP reserved seating tickets are $65 per person.
Three dessert chefs will also compete for the dessert champion title at the qualifying event, and the top vote-getter will prepare the dessert for March finale event, Ms. Maguire said.
Chef Mike VanBuskirk of Cobalt, located inside the Vero Beach Hotel and Spa, will be one of the 11 chefs competing for this year's title.
Although his kitchen has competed in the event in the past few years, they are back and ready to thrill the taste buds of the guests.
"We are very active with charities at the hotel. We are doing what we can for the people in the community and doing what we do best -- connecting through food," Chef VanBuskirk said.
Not only does the Homeless Family Center provide needy families with beds, food and a roof over their heads, but the nonprofit also helps the parents of the families find employment and teaches them financial planning, and works to keep the children in their own schools and on top of their academics.
Consistency is a big deal for children, and a lot of change can lead to them feeling overwhelmed and unsafe, Ms. Maguire said.
"If we can keep the kids in their same school, they get the feeling that everything will be good, an 'I can handle this' mentality," she said.
A number of factors in today's can lead to a family being unexpectedly homeless, including job loss and domestic problems.
Many times the families that come to the shelter are single-parents and with an average of three children, and the programs at the Homeless Family Center are designed to help that family out of homelessness and into a financially stable and emotional place where they can provide for their family once more, Ms. Maguire said.
"We have a great success story to share," she said.
About two years ago, a woman came in with her children after suddenly finding herself with no place to stay. She stuck with the program for two years, working hard and saving 75 percent of her income, as required by the nonprofit.
"Now, two years later, she has gone from homelessness to homeownership and that's because of the structure of our program," Ms. Maguire said.
The challenge finale will be held on March 10 at 6 p.m. in the Quail Valley River Club. Tickets are $180 per person and include a seated formal dinner consisting of entrees prepared by the four chef finalists and dessert.
Guests will again be able to vote for their favorite chef and crown a winner as Vero's Top Chef 2014, a press release said.
For more information about the 2014 Vero's Top Chef Challenge, or to purchase tickets, call Connie Utter at (772) 567-5537, Ext. 326 or visit www.homelessfamilycenter.com.