DineEngine recently sponsored the 2019 Columbus Mac and Cheese Festival, held at Easton Town Center, located in the Town Square behind Brio Tuscan Grille.
The event benefited Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) cancer research at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute.
According to NextGen Ambassadors Chair Josh Barkan, “The James is very special, an incredible place to have in Columbus. I have been working with the James for as long as I can remember through my family’s involvement. I lost two grandparents to cancer, and have many friends affected by the same.”
Hosted by a group of highly motivated young professionals dedicated to creating a cancer-free world, “The NextGen James Ambassadors get the upcoming generation involved in the James to show what can be accomplished with philanthropy,” said Barkan.
“The NexGen James Ambassador’s mission is to enhance community awareness and involvement in Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) cancers by focusing on four fundamental elements that will drive future generations: Advocacy, Education, Fundraising, and Survivorship,” said NextGen Suvivorship Committee Member Michael Caligiuri. “All funds raised go towards cancer research and care at the James.”
Leveraging the slogan “Mac Out Cancer!” guests from all over Columbus descended upon Easton Town Center to enjoy a cheesy good time while supporting a great cause. A purchased ticket gave patrons access to macaroni and cheese offerings from the best Columbus restaurants and chefs.
“The Columbus Mac and Cheese Festival is the brainchild of Josh Barkan,” said Caligiuri. “Not only was it his idea, but he is largely responsible for making the idea come to fruition by bringing together community partners and leading the entire NextGen group.”
Participating Columbus Restaurants and chefs included Brio, Fado, GD Ritzy’s, Melt, Mitchell’s Ocean Club, Rusty Bucket, Smith & Wollensky, Sweet Carrot, Cheryl’s Cookies, Chuy’s, L Brands Kitchen, Milestone 229, Noodles & Company, Smoked on High, SSA Events/COSI, World of Beer, and more. Restaurants are learning to appeal to their target demographics by upgrading their customer experience, whether through digital technology, sustainability, or the support of worthy causes.
“The Columbus Mac and Cheese Fest has an energy that is inspiring. To see the amount of people that come from different walks of life is amazing,” said Barkan. “Cancer affects everyone. It doesn’t see race, religion, or socioeconomic status. It impacts everyone and everyone should be able to feel like they are contributing to the fight against cancer, and that’s what they’re doing by buying a $25 ticket and attending.”
“Similar to Pelotonia, the Mac and Cheese Festival provides a perpetual stream of income to fund cancer research and care at the James,” said Caligiuri. “Not only that, but this festival brings together people from all walks of life that can and want to make a difference. The sky is the limit for the future of this event.”
“Each restaurant at this event gets to put its own spin on Mac & Cheese,” said Caligiuri. “The countless people at the event know which restaurants ‘answered the bell’ to help support Cancer research at the James. People know who is there and who isn’t.”
In 4 years, we’ve had over 7000 attendees, more than 100,000 facebook followers, lots of instagram influencers posts, NBC4 coverage, 10TV coverage, 614 media group articles, CityScene articles, every major event calendar in Columbus has the festival listed and so on,” Barkan said.
Besides indulging in ultimate mac and cheese comfort food creations, guests attending the family-friendly event enjoyed water, soda, beer, and wine, in addition to live entertainment.
“Anytime you bring together a great group of people, great things happen,” said Caligiuri. “That’s why this is so important.”
“AYA cancer affects patients between the ages of 15-39,” said Barkan. “The funds support an array of initiatives at the hospital, and are helping the James establish the premier AYA program in the county.”
Funds generated from the Mac and Cheese Festival will directly support the Fertility Preservation and Reproductive Health (FPRH) program at OSUCCC – James. This program works to address barriers to care and improve the fertility and reproductive health of adolescent and young adult patients receiving cancer treatments that affect future fertility.
To date, the event has raised more than $210,000, and each year brings more visitors and sponsors.
“You can see people making new connections, having fun, and enjoying good food,” said Caligiuri. “What you can’t see is the incredibly positive ripple effect this event has.” Hundreds if not thousands of people become aware of the need to raise funds for Adolescent Young Adult Cancer Research.”
You can find out more information about The James here.
You can find out more information about Easton Town Center here.