Tim Self, the membership chair at the Sertoma Club of Greater Sarasota, said when he reached his 50th birthday 10 years ago, he began thinking about the need to attract younger people to the club to help children and adults with speech, language and hearing challenges.
To raise awareness, the club eventually added a festival that could offer something for everyone, bringing in Gold Coast Eagle Distributing to organize the event.
The eighth annual My Hometown Fest was held at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota on March 25.
“This is not just Sarasota — it’s your hometown, my hometown, their hometown,” he said while enjoying the event.
Self said food and beers from around the country are available at the festival. He said this year's fest featured about 25 restaurants and 75 craft beers and has raised over $100,000 across the previous seven years for Sertoma Club of Greater Sarasota and Sertoma Kids Speech and Language Center.
Merly Soliano, a former manager at Patricks 1481 on Main Street in Sarasota, said she came to the festival to spread the word about Merly Mae’s Filipino Catering, a Sarasota catering service she hopes to open by May, filling what she said was a need for Filipino food in the area.
"Every time I have a party at the house, all of my friends — Filipino and American friends — all love my food,” she said.
Doug Wagner, deputy superintendent of operations of the School District of Manatee County, said the festival offered an opportunity for students at Manatee Technical College to showcase their culinary skills. The wide array of light bites and desserts at the college’s food stand, he said, were the students’ own creations.
“It’s nice to be able to demonstrate what you learned at school,” said an MTC student, Bradenton’s Crystal Solano. “It’s also nice because it helps the foundation.”
Sarasota’s Jill Michel said the festival was an opportunity for her to promote her newly established business, Vermonti Cannoli, which she found was a hit with her friends in her former home of Vermont. She said her cannoli are distinguished by their unique flavors including chocolate peanut butter, lemon, pistachio and coconut.
“It’s a mutual benefit,” said Sarasota’s John Saporito, who was attending the event. “The businesses get the word and their product out, and people get to come and see what they have to offer. There are a lot of hidden gems in Sarasota.”