Veteran’s Park was filled with food lovers Saturday for the Springfield Rotary Gourmet Food Truck Competition. Bill Lackey/Staff

Springfield Rotary food truck competition in fifth year, still growing

It has been five years and Springfield’s appetite for food trucks hasn’t let up yet.

The fifth annual Springfield Rotary Gourmet Food Truck Competition will be 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 18 in Veterans Park. Admission is free.

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There will be 32 food trucks including 13 newcomers and 19 returning vendors along with live music throughout the day.

What began as the Rotary Club’s latest fundraiser in 2014 has grown into one of the city’s most anticipated annual events and enabled the club to help more people through its charitable causes.

More than 50,000 have attended in sunshine and rain. Downpours affected the 2016 competition, but many just waited it out.

“I can’t believe it’s the fifth already,” said Rotarian and marketing chair Eddie Bell. “Food trucks are a phenomenon. Put them in a great setting like the park and people can get together and it leads to a great event.”

Whereas food trucks can be seen any day around the city, having multiple trucks in one place was a different concept when Rotarians brainstormed the idea for its main annual fundraiser, having sponsored a grand prix event downtown for years, followed by an Amazing Race.

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This took things to a whole different level.

Bell said many attendees may not realize the charitable aspect behind the competition.

Among Rotary’s missions are supporting the African nation of Lesotho as well as local people with disabilities through programs including the annual dream soccer camp, spring prom and children’s Christmas party, and therapeutic rides.

In 2014 when the competition began, 486 people benefited from Rotary’s programs. By 2017-2018, that number rose to 881 through the more than $100,000 raised.

That first year had its own learning curve. Having never done such an event, the trucks were lined on both sides of the park, leading to line congestion.

Many trucks ran out of food before the event’s finish and had to provide their own generators for power and cold storage.

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The next year, a new layout was used, and power and cold storage were provided. Such touches made the event one food trucks wanted to be a part of and Rotary has to narrow these down.

“It has been a great community event and they’ve been patient as we’ve grown it,” said Rotarian Ross McGregor.

Many truck owners clear their calendars for the competition. There have been 78 different food trucks from four states, including 41 that have returned for at least one other competition and 11 that have competed in all five events.

This competition differs in that it awards cash prizes to the top three finishers, who submit a signature item for a panel of judges, totaling $63,000 over four years. In 2017, a people’s choice award was added.

A recurring question from visitors is why the event isn’t for the full weekend due to its popularity. Given it is volunteer-run would mean more manpower and planning.

Bell said Rotarians and volunteers are at the sight from Friday afternoon until night, then from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday.

“We’re always exploring options and enhancements,” Bell said. “We hope the community will hopefully come out to support and enjoy it.”

McGregor compares it to planning a wedding.

“The day comes and you pull it off and there’s a great sense of accomplishment and relief,” he said.

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