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A tasty result: Ribfest brings in over $14 million

<p>Jon Cunningham~For Sun-Times Media</p>

Jon Cunningham~For Sun-Times Media

The fight against child abuse and other forms of domestic violence garnered a big boost this week.

Representatives of the Naperville Exchange Club announced that this year’s Fourth of July weekend fundraiser, Ribfest, yielded $548,000 that will be distributed among 52 local groups focused on that cause. The sum will bring to more than $14 million the total Ribfest proceeds that have been disbursed to local agencies since the event began in 1987.

Marty Walker, chairman of the four-day event in downtown Naperville’s Knoch Park, noted that the proceeds were particularly gratifying as the national economy continues to challenge many people. While the sum falls significantly short of the $922,000 in proceeds raised in 2008, it’s 37 percent more than the income in 2012, when brutally hot weather kept attendance unusually low, at about 100,000 visitors.

M.J. Howenstine, Ribfest administrator, said the amount to be disbursed from this year’s event represents an uptick relative to the past several years.

“I think it’s the best year we’ve had since the economy went down,” she said.

The weekend’s weather this year was great, Howenstine noted, but organizers also took extra steps to control the expenses involved in staging the massive fest.

“We thought we were able to provide a really excellent event using stewardship,” she said, relating that many more services were put out to bid than had been solicited in the past. “We tried to take a little more businesslike approach.”

More than 90 projects were submitted for consideration as prospective recipients of the funds, with some charities nominating multiple projects. The rundown of those chosen won’t be released until next month.

“We do a personal outreach to the charities that aren’t chosen, and we haven’t had a chance to do that yet,” Howenstine said Friday.

The club’s announcement did cite as examples some of the nonprofits that have garnered the organization’s support in the past, including Families Helping Families, the parent mentoring program Project HELP, CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of DuPage County, the city’s volunteer outreach Elderly Services Team, DuPage PADS (formerly Public Action to Deliver Shelter), Naperville CARES (Community Acting in Response to Economic Stress), the Naperville Area Humane Society, 360 Youth Services, and Our Children’s Homestead.

Planning for Ribfest 2014 is well under way. The festivities will take place July 3 to 6, and Howenstine said the lineup of musical acts should be finalized soon. Local real estate agent Dan DeBoo will be the chairman.

Between now and then, this year’s money will be awarded. The donations are presented at a luncheon held in March, just around the corner from the Ribfest site at Meson Sabika.

“That’s the part that I hold very dear, the people that come and pick up those checks,” Walker told The Sun last summer, as setup for the event was being finalized. “It’s horrible when you hear some of these stories.”

Howenstine said the presentation is emotional for everyone.

“Everybody thinks the best day of the year is the Fourth,” she said. “But for the people that work at Ribfest, it’s the lunch.”

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