A parade of cars lined up to pick up Taste the Town dinners at The Nineteenth Century Club in Oak Park on February 23 (Melissa Elsmo/Eats Editor).

Take Out 25 Oak Park, the online community dedicated to supporting local restaurants and bakeries through the COVID-19 pandemic by placing copious carry out orders, hosted Taste the Town on Feb. 23. The inaugural event raised $38,000 for Housing Forward and nine Oak Park restaurants and bakeries. 

“I am so thrilled to share the financial impact of the Taste the Town event,” said Ravi Parakkat, Take Out 25 creator and a current candidate for Oak Park village trustee. “We blew away all our goals.”

Funds raised through ticket sales were dispersed through a predetermined formula. Housing Forward earned $9,323 by taking a portion of each bag sold as well as additional donations. Billy BricksKettlestrings TavernMora Asian KitchenPoke BurritoTre Sorelle and Wild Onion Tied House provided a range of food options and each restaurant received $3,917. A dessert bag, featuring an array of sweets from Kalamata KitchenThe Happy Apple and Sugar Fixe Patisserie, earned each establishment $1,682. 

“Every dollar from the event has gone toward helping our local restaurants survive and feeding people experiencing homelessness,” said Parakkat.

Taste the Town, organized by Allison Cummins and executed by Take Out 25 volunteers, drew a crowd of hundreds to The Nineteenth Century Club on a chilly Tuesday evening. Lines of cars snaked in both directions on Forest Avenue awaiting the socially distant, drive-thru style delivery of their “ultimate take-out bag.”

Jimmy Chen, owner of Poke Burrito, and his wife worked shoulder-to-shoulder with volunteers to get things done in time to meet the segmented pick-up schedule demands. In fact, most participating restaurants including Tre Sorelle and Mora Asian Kitchen left staff behind to help fill take-out bags with petite pulled pork sliders, diminutive apple pies, lasagna Bolognese, curry chicken and pastel-hued macarons.  

“Even though we were in cars it felt good to be part of a crowd when we picked up the food,” said Paul Clark, longtime Oak Park resident and Taste the Town participant. “Oak Park has a long history with these types of social events. This type of event defines a community and the fact it was done well makes people want to do more of the same thing and encourage others to participate in the future.”

Taste the Town organizer, Allison Cummins, delivers dinner and dessert bags to waiting cars on February 23 (Melissa Elsmo/Eats Editor).

Cummins said she felt nervous leading up to the event but left thrilled by the success of the evening and inspired by the overwhelming positivity exhibited by people picking up their Taste the Town bags. 

“I feel like the pandemic has made people feel a little helpless,” said Cummins. “Taste the Town was a tangible way people could make a difference at a time they were looking for a way to help.”

Parrakat and his team acknowledge there were a few hiccups at the first-time event and apologize for any errors they made along the way. While the team is aware there is room for improvement, they have already identified small switches to enhance the experience and are excited at the prospect of repeating the event soon with Housing Forward or another non-profit organization. 

“We would love to do this event again in April or early May,” said Cummins. “Restaurant owners really took a chance on this event, but they seemed happy with how it turned out. I want to thank the restaurant owners, everyone at The Nineteenth Century Club, and the entire Take Out 25 community. We could not have done this without everyone working together in this collaborative environment.”

“Taste the Town came together really well,” said Parakkat. “The food was top notch, and this event reinforces my choice to make Oak Park Home.”

Oak Park’s Taste the Town Event is now being replicated in Madison, Wisconsin.

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