Sweet treats for charity: Chocolate festival aids free clinic

Published February 6, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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The Hot Springs Chocolate Festival hosted more than 700 people who sampled the candies, cupcakes, doughnuts and other sweets provided by 17 vendors at the Embassy Suites Hot Springs-Hotel & Spa on Sunday. The annual event is a major fundraiser for the Charitable Christian Medical Clinic in Hot Springs.

HOT SPRINGS — More than 700 chocolate lovers braved a cold, heavy rain to satisfy their cravings for sweet treats on Sunday at the 10th Hot Springs Chocolate Festival.

The annual event is held at 1 p.m. before the Super Bowl at the Embassy Suites Hot Springs-Hotel and Spa to benefit the Charitable Christian Medical Clinic, which provides free medical, dental and vision care to those in need in the region.

“I am happy we had so many people come out despite the bad weather,” said Lynn Blankenship, administrator of the clinic. “We had about 900 people last year, but I think we will come close to reaching the $40,000 we raised last year.”

The heavy rains in Garland County also caused Oaklawn Park to cancel the rest of the racing card after the first three races at the track, located a few miles down Central Avenue from the festival.

“It was not showers; it was a hard rain,” Blankenship said. “It was wet and soggy the entire time.”

She said the shortfall in attendance would probably be overcome by the higher ticket prices this year and the returns from the silent auction.

“All the items auctioned on display around the lobby of the hotel were donated,” Blankenship said. “All the proceeds of the auction help the clinic provide treatment and medicines for our patients.”

The festival is one of three events held during the year to raise funds for the clinic on Arbor Street that provided an estimated $5.8 million in free medical service during 2013. The clinic opened in 1996.

Vendors offered chocolate and other sweets, including cupcakes, gelato, doughnuts and hard candy, for those in attendance.

“One good thing about the smaller crowd,” Blankenship said, “people could go back for seconds.”

The festival was also an opportunity to honor Dr. John Crenshaw, who has been medical director of the clinic since 2000 and was chairman of the clinic’s board of directors.

Hot Springs Mayor Ruth Carney was at the festival with a proclamation making Feb. 2 Dr. John Crenshaw Day in recognition of his volunteer service to the clinic and its patients.

The doctor, who has treated patients for almost 50 years, said he will remain active in the clinic.

“I’m going to continue to volunteer my services with the clinic,” Crenshaw told the gathering. “Seeing people who need help get medical attention is why I’ve been here as long as I have.”

The doctor also expressed appreciation to Mercy Hot Springs Hospital, National Park Medical Center and Baptist Health Hot Spring County for their support in providing free or discounted use of their labs and other diagnostic equipment.

While some of the vendors providing free sweets to the crowd were from among the restaurants, bakers and confectioners in the Spa City, others were from companies who wanted to be part of the festival and its cause.

Judges awarded the Best Taste award to the Bleu Monkey Grill, while Trademark Real Estate’s display of cupcakes received the Best Presentation award. Ticket holders also got a vote, naming Dulce Gelato the People’s Choice winner.

Blankenship said the chocolate festival started when the free clinic’s board members were looking for a way to raise funds, and the management of the newly opened Embassy Suites was trying to develop a program as a community service.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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