PUBLISHED AUG. 25, 2016
By ANDREA SHAY
How many twists can be made on the classic grilled cheese? That’s what the Grilled Cheese Festival in Palmetto attempted to find out this past Saturday. Featuring 20 different food vendors, the festival sold just about every type of grilled cheese sandwich imaginable. Attendees could get anything from the grilled cheese on white bread with cheddar that many already know and love, to gourmet sandwiches featuring specialty cheeses and top-quality meats. The event also included performances by local reggae band Jah Movement and the funk/soul group Reverend Barry & Funktastic Soul featuring the Hellacious Horns.
Clancy’s Irish Sports Pub and Grill was among the festival’s grilled cheese vendors and offered unique sandwiches designed by their kitchen manager, Scott Bouchard. Among their offerings was a Parmesan-encrusted tomato and bacon sandwich with American cheese, a specialty that Bouchard has been making for years, even though it’s not on Clancy’s regular menu.
According to Bouchard, Clancy’s owner, Rayma Stowe, never met a fundrasing opportunity she didn’t like. Clancy’s participates in a number of benefit events in the area each year. The Shamrock Shiver —Southwest Florida’s version of what northerners typically call the Polar Bear Plunge — happens every January 1st near the Rod and Reel Pier on Anna Maria Island. This event typically raises around $20,000 annually for the Caring for Children Charities, and Bouchard said that each year they raise more money than the last.
In addition to celebrating one of America’s favorite sandwiches, Palmetto’s Grilled Cheese Festival also helped raise money for the Wheels 4 Purple Hearts organization. The organization fundraises in order to give away specially customized wheelchairs for qualifying veterans in need who have received a Purple Heart. Purple Hearts are awarded to United States Armed Services members who have been wounded or killed while serving in a branch of the U.S. military.
Wheels 4 Purple Hearts is a small organization run by its founder, Jack Thompson, and it puts 100% of the money it raises right back into acquiring and customizing wheelchairs for wounded veterans. Wheels 4 Purple Hearts is not affiliated with any other organizations or charities, and one of their goals is to help veterans who aren’t getting the help they need elsewhere.
“The turnout was absolutely wonderful,” said Thompson about the Grilled Cheese Festival. He looks forward to future fundraising events and is hopeful about potentially planning an event at Hunsader Farms to raise money for more wheelchairs and celebrate other foodie favorites, “maybe cheeseburgers.” Thompson said that Wheels 4 Purple Hearts enjoys working with food truck vendors and bands to create community events.
To find out more about Wheels 4 Purple Hearts, call Jack Thompson at 941-993-3622, or visit wheels4purplehearts.com.
The group currently has a customized wheelchair that they’re looking to give away to a qualifying female veteran, and they ask that people pass the word to anyone who may be eligible to receive it or who knows someone who would qualify.