St. Nicholas Winter Festival offers host of fun, food for good cause

The eighth annual St. Nicholas Winter Festival in downtown Conway will bring some Christmas cheer this weekend before Thanksgiving and again raise funds for multiple local charities.

John Wilkins, co-chairman of the event, said the 2012 event was scheduled a tad earlier, with hopes to avoid any conundrums from any possible wintry weather, and it returns for a second time to the Peanut Warehouse for the “Taste of Conway” on Thursday, and an arts fair and barbecue cookoff on Saturday.

Question | With both main events each earning their own day in the spotlight, how does the “Taste of Conway,” entailing more than food, make Thursday night a rousing kickoff?

Answer | For “Taste of Conway,” we have about 17 participants. We’ve had very brisk early ticket sales. ... And Nick Van Horn: He will open with his acoustic band ... with the fabulous SandSations to finish the night off. So bring your appetite and your dancing shoes. Everything’s priced with tickets for $1 to $3. One participant has been featured on the Food Network. This is the third year for “Taste of Conway.” Last year, it was “Conway Christmas Cuisine.”

There will be a whole variety of foods, then the attendees will be voting on their choice of restaurant for best entree, best appetizer and others.

Q. | Fast-forwarding to the arts fair on Saturday, how have officials broken the day up, and included children, to make the day a family affair?

A. | We’ll have 100 arts and crafts vendors and lots of things for kids to do, such as an inflatable amusement park, rides, and rock climbing walls ... and a trackless train.

Q. | With the cookoff, just how serious are people’s taste in the competition, for cooking, and customers tasting, the fare?

A. | It’s a fully sanctioned barbecue cookoff. It’s also the last cookoff before the end of the year. Right now, we have 23 participants entered in the barbecue cookoff. Judging will be at 10 a.m., and the gates open at 11, so you can come in and start sampling, all for a $10 wristband purchase.

Q. | Besides the festival provides quality time for couples, family and friends to enjoy one another’s company, what else emanates from this kind of heart-of-town atmosphere?

A. | Actually it is quality time. The vendors tell us how much they love the riverside setting. It gets you into the Christmas spirit.

Q. | How far does the outreach from the support of this festival extend to numerous local charitable causes?

A. | From all the money raised, after expenses, everything goes back into the community, it all goes out. This year, it will go to Churches Assisting People, The Shepherd’s Table, Fostering Hope, the Friendship Clinic, Neighbor to Neighbor and Father’s Place. We try to do food, clothing, shelter, medical care and a means for kids “to get there” – the life essentials. That’s what we try to support. Last year, we raised over $23,000.

Q. | Just how touching is the proof of how this festival and its gift for the community make an everlasting difference?

A. | Last year, I was putting a poster, and a fellow said to me, “What do have there?” ... He said, “Wow, you guys help CAP. ... I was down on my luck, had no job and no means to support myself. ... I went down there, and they gave me a meal, they gave me clothes, they found a way for me to find a part-time job. The part-time job turned into a full-time job, and now I’m a supervisor. They saved my life.”

When you hear stories like that, unsolicited ... it makes my heart pump with love.

Q. | What kind of team effort turns out for this year after year?

A. | We have a core group of eight people and other people do their things. We also have some great media sponsors; they jump right in and step up.

Q. | Any other help needed in planning this week, as the countdown winds down to the festival?

A. | We do have a need for some barbecue volunteers. Anyone who wants to help participants for the barbecue cookoff on Saturday: They can contact me at 333-9500. They’ll get to hang out with some really great barbecue pit masters; these are professionals.