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Cracker Fest lends helping hand

By Staff | Oct 19, 2012

Photo by Christopher Koerner Photography This year's Cracker Fest will feature a Friends In Service Here (F.I.S.H.) Basket Challenge as a means for SanCap Solutions to Avoid Red Tide (START) to raise food items for the FISH Food Pantry. Twenty baskets will be sold to local businesses, which will fill them up with food and decorate them. Guests of the Cracker Fest on Nov. 2 at the Bait Box will vote on their favorite decorated basket by purchasing raffle tickets for voting. Eric Kirkland, Max Westendor who is a START intern, Richard Johnson of Bailey's Shopping Center, Ralph and Jean Woodring who are chairman of this year's Cracker Fest and owners of the Bait Box, and Billy Kirkland, owner of Billy's Bike Rentals invite the community to Cracker Fest and vote on their favorite decorated basket.

Florida cracker refers to original colonial-era English and American pioneer settlers in the state. Today, the term is used informally by some Floridians to indicate their families have lived in the state for many years. It is considered a source of pride to be a descendent of frontier people who did not just live, but flourished in a time before air conditioning, mosquito repellent and screens.

To celebrate Floridian heritage, the Sanibel-Captiva chapter of Solutions to Avoid Red Tide (START) will host the 4th annual Cracker Fest at 6 p.m. Nov. 2 at the Bait Box. This year’s event will feature music by islander musician Danny Morgan and his Apple Butter Band; as well as a cracker feast of Wayne’s wild smoked pig, Ralph’s fried and smoked mullet with all the trimmings including wine and beer.

As part of Cracker Fest, START will lend a helping hand by advancing the collection of much needed pantry staples distributed by the Friends In Service Here (F.I.S.H. of Sanibel) Food Pantry through a new basket competition with local businesses and a raffle for festival goers.

“The FISH basket challenge is the result of SanCap Solutions to Avoid Red Tide Inc.’s board of director’s determination to create a means of raising funds for our mission in a way that will offer an added benefit to our community,” said Ralph Woodring, Cracker Fest chairman and owner of the Bait Box.

Twenty baskets will be sold for $200 each to local businesses that will fill them with pantry items and gift certificates for Thanksgiving meal supplies. The baskets will be decorated by the merchants and guests at Cracker Fest will vote on their favorite one by purchasing raffle tickets for voting. The winning business will receive a boat excursion and dinner provided by SanCap START, while all the raffle tickets are entered into multiple drawings with terrific prizes.

Billy Kirkland, owner of Billy’s Bikes on Periwinkle Way, is one island business that has purchased a basket to fill and decorate for the Cracker Fest. “I see it as a way to help sponsor two great causes on Sanibel,” he said.

“This year’s basket raffle/competition will help underwrite START’s continued research and outreach programs aimed at improving water quality and marine habitat conservation,” explained Woodring. “And at the same time offer assistance to people in our community who need our help.”

START is a statewide organization that has five local chapters. It started out in the late 1980s as an organization seeking a means to control red tide.

Several years ago, it as a state organization decided to broaden its goals and objectives — as a water quality and marine habitat conservation organization that promotes these through education and research. The SanCap chapter decided to have a fundraiser four years ago called the Cracker Fest in order to help this initiative.

Since then, START has created a website to help public school students better understand marine studies and issues; and worked with Lee County school professionals to make it happen. It has been a widely-used site.

Additionally, the local chapter initiated an educational sustainable seafood program; Florida START produced a larger framework called Seafood Savvy. Last year, it implemented a program to illustrate sustainable seafood practices for restaurants, retail seafood establishments and the general public.

Tickets to the Cracker Fest are $100 per person, which include admittance to the event, dinner, beer or wine, entertainment, live auction and a complimentary raffle ticket. Admittance is by reservation only and limited to the first 300 attendees. For ticket information, contact Jean Woodring at 239-284-6067 or email sancapcrackerfest@yahoo.com.