Patrons line up for waffle cones filled with their favorite flavors served by Lighthouse Rotarian Clarence Weaver, owner of C&W Market and Ice Cream Parlor. (Photo by Kristin Brown)

Thirty purveyors of Evanston’s most delectable food and beverages served up samples of sweet and savory dishes, wines, beers and other brews at the Lighthouse Rotary Club’s seventh annual Taste of Evanston last Sunday.

The club has a strategic focus on addressing housing insecurity in Evanston and has designated Connections for the Homeless and Reba Place Development Corp. (RPDC) as the two primary beneficiaries of the event.

For three hours on a perfect late-summer afternoon, nearly 400 vaccinated people meandered from table to table, tent to tent, on the lawn of the Evanston History Center’s Dawes House. “This year was extraordinarily special to our club because of how long we’ve all been separated from one another by the pandemic,” said Club President Linda Gerber. “We were elated to be able to bring the community together to re-energize our work to help eradicate housing insecurity in Evanston. As a community, we have the opportunity and responsibility to continue the important work of making Evanston a place for all to call home.”

Attendees tasted local specialties like Soul and Smoke’s macaroni and cheese with pulled pork, walnut shrimp from Koi, tres leches cake by Sweet Temptations or a chunk of Kerrygold cheese served on bread from Hewn. Between bites people sipped samples of rose or white bordeaux from Vinic or the Wine Goddess, ginger turmeric lemonade from Coffee Lab or a beer from Temperance or Sketchbook.

Four hundred people on site, serving and sampling items from 30 different purveyors, could potentially leave a lot of trash, but did not even fill two 95-gallon carts with landfill waste. “The Taste of Evanston planned on zero waste down to the last detail,” said Marisa Naujokas. “We spent more money to buy compostable goods to spare the environment and participants were encouraged to reuse their bamboo forks.”

Toward the end, attendees were encouraged to take leftovers home rather than let the food be composted. The club also rented the City’s mobile water station to minimize the use of plastic water bottles.

“Our club was proud to partner with Collective Resource Compost,” Naujokas added. There were no trash bins in the tents. Orange compost bins were placed by every table and volunteers circulated continuously, replacing full bins with empty ones. CRC staff sorted the contents into bins for compost, recycling and landfill.

This year’s event featured many small tents in place of one big tent, allowing participants, purveyors and volunteers to maintain safe distances while enjoying all of the amenities the event had to offer. Many people preferred the new layout, which had the added benefit of improved acoustics.

Maudlyne Ihejirika and Linda Gerber listen as Rotary International President-Elect Jennifer Jones speaks to attendees.

Journalist Maudlyne Ihejirika emceed the event, which included warm welcomes from Club President Gerber and Mayor Daniel Biss and updates from Rotarian Keith Banks of RPDC, Betty Bogg of Connections, and Sue Loellbach of Joining Forces for Affordable Housing, the advocacy arm of Connections. Bogg said that Connections helped over 4,000 people between July 2020 and June 2021, channeling over $2 million into the community to pay people’s back rent and utilities, security deposits and mortgages. They also worked in partnership with “friendly local hotels to provide shelter to over 300 people, 70 of whom were children in the community,” adding that “the pandemic has really helped us shine a light on the need for our services.”

Banks said that RPDC is bidding on a Lot One development that will create 50 more affordable housing units and thanked the club for more than $50,000 contributed so far, “which is helping us pay our architect fees, our consultant fees, our development fees for the current project.”

Rotary President-elect Jennifer Jones and her husband relocated to Evanston a few weeks ago and have already visited a number of the restaurants participating in the Taste. Jones took a break from her role as volunteer with the composting crew to address participants, saying that Rotary is “committed to making sure that this community grows, thrives and is sustainable into the future. We’re very proud to be part of the fabric of this community and thank you for including us here today.”

In addition to Rotary International’s next president, several local organizations provided volunteers to help with the event including Evanston Latinos and the Officer and a Gentlemen Academy and, of course, representatives of the two beneficiary organizations.