As the weather warms, we Torontonians must steel ourselves for the oncoming onslaught of food, music and entertainment that is known as Festival Season. Not that we pick favourites or anything (read: we totally pick favourites) but we could not possibly be more excited for Toronto Wing Festival 2014. Now in its third year, TO Wing Fest will be held Sunday, May 4th at Daniels Spectrum in Regent Park and is already sold out. The event has exploded in growth over the last few years, having begun with 500 guests and six restaurants and now this year’s crowd pegged at 2,000 attendees, up to 20 vendors, two bands playing music, and a Steam Whistle truck all housed in a much larger space spread inside and outdoors.
What many foodies do not realize is that the Toronto Wing Festival is actually a charity event. Run by the Rotary Club of the Toronto Skyline (RCTS), the festival’s profits are donated annually to two charities: one international and one local. While many may recognize the Rotary International brand, RCTS is one of only two clubs in Toronto focused on young professionals. Their hard-working group of around 30 members regularly does philanthropy and voluntarism at local charities such as the Fort York Food Bank.
While most other Rotary Clubs fundraise through rib fests, organizer Kevin Quan tells us that they wanted to try something different. After initially thinking of doing a New Year’s Eve event, the costs and the risks were considered too high. “We heard the Chicago Wing Festival was insanely popular and sold out months in advance. We spent a year researching wing festivals in Chicago, New York, and Buffalo before we started working on Toronto’s,” he tells us. They learned a lot from their adventures in America, including the benefits of holding the event on Sundays (ie. no competition on the chance the Leafs are in the play-offs), providing guests with an all-you-can-eat experience, and how not to bite off more wing than they could chew.
Previous Toronto Wing Festivals have supported charities including Streets to Homes Toronto, STEP Cambodia, the Fort York Food Bank, and the Rotary Foundation. Besides their mantra of “service above self,” the Rotary Club has the two international mandates of eradicating polio and providing clean water for all. The organization has already raised hundreds of millions of dollars for these endeavours and always attempts to use local contractors to help ensure the projects’ long-term sustainability. This year, the local Toronto charities being supported will include the Fort York Food Bank along with others centered around Regent Park, such as the Native Earth Performing Arts, so that festival-goers can directly see where their money will be going to help.
If you love chicken wings and helping your fellow humans appeals to you, the Rotary Club of the Toronto Skyline is open to anybody and always accepting new members. Guanto notes, “You get out of it what you put in.” Commitments are mostly time and effort (approximately 12 hours a month) along with a small annual fee to help cover insurance for events such as Toronto Wing Festival.
Planning on attending the Toronto Wing Festival? Let us know in the comments below or tweet us @ViewTheVibe.