Plenty of treats to go around: Chocolate Celebration sees increased ticket sales

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May 5—When the doors to the Samaritan Caregivers 21st annual Chocolate Celebration opened, a line was already stretched along the eastern side of Kokomo First Church of the Nazarene.

It would take roughly 10 minutes for the first crowd of visitors to shuffle into the building. By the end of the event's first hour, 1,393 tickets had been exchanged for a treat.

Jamey Henderson, executive director of Samaritan Caregivers, called it a strong start to the event. She predicted it was a good sign for the hours to come.

There were more than 40 vendors at the Chocolate Celebration this year, offering a variety of treats such as chocolate-dipped bacon, whoopie pies and cookies.

Each booth exchanged one treat per ticket, which were sold in bundles of three tickets for $10.

Near the end of the church's western hallway, Rozzi's Catering decorated its table with real cocoa pods and sugarcane. The company's chocolate barbecue pork stopped a handful of visitors in their tracks.

Jennifer Rozzi, owner of the catering business, explained the dish started with a cocoa dry rub. From there, a ketchup-based barbeque sauce was mixed with chocolate sauce, toffee, habanero and orange zest.

The company made sure to save the recipe, she added.

The owner said she appreciated the Chocolate Celebration fundraiser as an opportunity to experiment with new flavor profiles.

"It's just fun," she said. "People don't expect you to try something with chocolate that's not sweet."

Steve Martell, one of the Chocolate Celebration visitors, said he wasn't sure how chocolate and pork would mix. Although he enjoyed both on their own, he was curious to see what the combination would be like.

"It tastes great," Martell said. "I was a little scared to begin with, but this is wonderful."

Ascension St. Vincent Kokomo's booth was next to Rozzi's Catering. The organization also went for a savory approach.

Following up on last year's cocoa-rubbed roast beef crostini paired with pepper jam and whipped mascarpone cheese, the hospital presented skewers of flank steak with chocolate whiskey butter sauce and raspberries.

Sarah Benedict, who has worked in St. Vincent's kitchen for about a year and a half, helped develop the recipe.

"When your competition is cookies, cookies, cookies, you've got to be different," Benedict said.

Jane Brown, one of the founding members of Samaritan Caregivers, came out to the 21st annual celebration. She was impressed by the fundraiser's turnout and said she was proud of the nonprofit's continuing work to help senior citizens.

"It's a worthwhile thing," Brown said. "Believe me."

The majority of organizations that joined the 2023 fundraiser were returning from previous years.

For example, the Kokomo Men of Note, a local group that performs a capella songs in the style of a barbershop quartet, made its return to sing to visitors.

Al Temby, one of the group's singers, said the Men of Note had been involved with the fundraiser for quite a few years.

"Everyone seems to be in a really good mood," Temby said. "They're happy and buying chocolate. It's just a really good event."

The Kokomo-Howard County Public Library also returned to tell visitors about the library's various programs. The first 20 visitors who showed the booth their library card could also receive a 3D printed cookie cutter that was made in the library's digital den.

"It's been successful," said Caele Pemberton Rutz, head of marketing and community engagement for the KHCPL. "It's opening the door to people who don't know what the library offers."

Cake molds were displayed to show visitors they could rent equipment as one the library's experience kits. If the visitors didn't bake, they might have heard about the other experience kits, such as the library's metal detector, axe-throwing kit or board games. You can find a full list of experience kits on the library's website, under the "Check it out" tab.

The Kurt Vonnegut Museum & Library also returned, serving strawberry cake cookies and chocolate pudding in ice cream cones. Both of the dishes were inspired by the museum's Alice in Wonderland cocktail experience, which will return for its second 12-week run May 12.

There were several newcomers as well, such as Etta's Gooey Goodies, which took home an award for the best baked goods at the fundraiser.

Wynter Hosier, owner of the Greentown shop, explained she won with her Billionaire Bar, a shortbread topped with caramel, cookie dough and chocolate ganache.

Hosier has been a home baker for years, and finally opened a brick and mortar store in February.

She wasn't able to tell what the award was for when event volunteers presented her with the ribbon. There was a line of shoppers she had to deal with. About an hour after being given the ribbon, she said she was still feeling good about the accomplishment.


Kokomo Area Career Center students showed off their culinary and design skills after the first hour of the fundraiser had passed.

Split into four groups, the students had an hour to transform a bag of treats into some sort of visual presentation.

The first group, represented by Aaliyah Dyer and Aliyah Barbary, went into the competition without a plan. They were confident in their ability to come up with a design as the clock ticked forward.

The second team, which included Naaman Cooper, Veena Sinkfield and Cameron Shrewsbury, started with the intention of making a miniature city, complete with an Oreo fountain topped with blue M&Ms.

"Right now, everything is doing alright," Sinkfield said, applying Nutella to some graham crackers to act as a binding agent. "The Nutella is a little runny, though."

The third team, led by Jenna Schmitt, Brittany Dunham and Phoenix Rogers, started by building a graham cracker fence.

The finished product, Schmitt said, would be a sweet tooth garden. She had seen other people make flower-based treats and thought it would be an easy display to modify.

Finally, the fourth group decided to build a camping scene, complete with a bonfire surrounded by marshmallow people. Ashybrianne Summers and Johana Vazquez constructed the sugary scene.

With runny Nutella, Summers wished she had a bit of Marshmallow Fluff on hand. It's what the KACC uses for gingerbread houses, she explained.

"We're striving to win. But if we don't it's OK," Summers said, adding the group of students would all still be friends by the end of the competition.

Nearly an hour later, with the minutes flying by and competitors putting final touches on their presentation, the first group had figured out a design: they built a log cabin, using pretzel sticks as the building's roof.

The second team had changed gears, as well. In the final minutes of the competition, they were sorting M&Ms by color to represent a path of hot coals surrounded by a field of grass and flowers. It was inspired by Fear Factor, one of the team members said.

The third and fourth teams stuck to their original plan.

Summers, from the fourth team, took a few moments to contemplate how nerve wracking it must be for the marshmallow people to sit around a campfire. She was careful to place them far enough away so their faces wouldn't melt — their eyebrows might get singed, though, she noted.

As the competition came to a close, the students wiped off their presentation boards and examined their competition.

Three judges approached each table to ask about construction choices and what the students were trying to represent with candy, pretzels and crackers. The students were judged on their presentation, creativity and use of materials.

Jessica Gunning, an administrative assistant for the Kokomo Fire Department, was among the three judges. She said the creativity category was among the most difficult to judge.

"It was really, really hard," added Jan Drac, a Samaritan Caregivers volunteer who also judged the competition.

In the end, the first team's candy cabin and fireplace was declared the winner.

Although the team went into the competition without a plan, Dyer said the structure came together fairly quickly. Her main concern was whether the primary building in the center of the board would remain upright.

"It feels good to win," Dyer said.

A successful day

Community First Bank of Indiana wound up raking in the most tickets of the day, earning the People's Choice Award.

The bank had three booths at the event, offering choices like J. Edwards cupcakes, chocolate meringue pie from Moore's Pie Shop and vegan whoopie pies from Lucky Lemon Bakery.

Each of the treats came from a business that banked with Community First, explained Caroline Jewell, a mortgage loan officer with the bank.

As the booths began to pack up, a handful of the nearly 100 volunteers totaled the final amount of tickets that had been exchanged for treats.

The final count came out to 4,030 tickets, an increase from last year's 3,658 tickets, that represented $13,400 in ticket sales.

Henderson seemed proud of the 21st annual Chocolate Celebration, noting some of the vendors sold out of their merchandise.

"We hope, always, that people feel good at the Chocolate Celebration," Henderson said. "But the bottom line is it's about helping seniors.

James Bennett III can be reached at 765-454-8580 or