BaconFest frying high in inaugural year

Crowds gather Sunday at the Salvation Army's Kroc Center for its BaconFest fundraiser. The event distinguished itself from others by its family-friendly atmosphere, which included face-painting, games and no alcohol.

Good weather and an enticing smell attracted a crowd to BaconFest at the Salvation Army's Kroc Center on Sunday.

BaconFest, in its inaugural year, joins other bacon-themed festivals in the Omaha area. This event, however, was family-oriented and alcohol-free.

“What makes ours different is ours is all family,” said Joanne Bemis, director of community relations and development for the Salvation Army. She said Salvation Army organizers wanted children and their parents to enjoy the festival together.

“Families need that time together,” Bemis said.

Activities included face-painting, games, live music and, of course, plenty of bacon.

Festival attendees received five Bacon Bucks with admission, which allowed them to taste various dishes and vote for their favorite. A panel of judges also cast votes.

Among those creating bacon concoctions were chefs from Anthony's Steakhouse, Holland Performing Arts Center and M's Pub.

“The chefs are all so creative,” Bemis said. “It's a different culinary art, working with bacon.”

The genesis for BaconFest was a desire by Bemis and Susan Eustice, public relations director for the Salvation Army, to create a fundraiser for the Kroc Center. The three-year-old center at 2825 Y St. provides a space for neighborhood residents to swim, exercise and take classes.

“We wanted an event that was going to be unique to the community,” Bemis said.

Her inspiration for Sunday's event was the six-year-old Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival in Des Moines. BaconFest began to take shape after Bemis talked with Eustice and Jim Trebbien, dean of culinary arts at Metropolitan Community College.

“Jim thought we could do it and we could raise funds annually,” Eustice said.

A year of planning and gathering sponsors followed. Farmland Foods, for example, donated 1,000 pounds of pork products.

John Wehrle, director of donor relations for the Salvation Army, said he expected between 1,000 and 1,500 people, including some from as far away as Kansas City, Mo., and Des Moines.

That adds up, in terms of donations, he said.

“We anticipated (generating) $30,000, but I hope we can exceed that,” Wehrle said.

All money will go to the Kroc Center to help fund programs and provide discounted memberships to neighborhood residents.

“The weather is far better than we expected. The crowd is better. The music is great,” said Maj. Todd Thielke, senior officer at the Kroc Center. “The smells alone are worth the price of admission.”

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