The Chocolate Festival has outgrown five venues over 31 years. From humble roots at the Whittier Center and 16 years at the Bullen Center, this year’s annual Planned Parenthood fundraiser will take over the Riverwoods Conference Center on Saturday night.
Nancy Sassano, Chocolate Festival organizer and board member for the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, said the event has been so popular and crowded that it was too intense for some people. She said this year — the first at the Riverwoods — will be a whole new experience.
“Now we finally have decided to just go big time,” Sassano said.
She said the ever-increasing popularity of the event is a reflection of the growing support for Planned Parenthood — and a love for chocolate.
Amateurs and professionals alike can enter brownies, cookies, cakes, chocolates, pies, tarts and other tasty treats to compete for the grand prize and people’s choice award. When the doors open at 6:30 p.m., attendees can pay a $10 donation and sample 10 desserts. They can socialize and hobnob while bidding in a silent auction of merchandise from local businesses, gift cards, artwork and food baskets.
Then awards will be given out to the best chocolate creations. The night will finish off with a live auction of a pass for a day at the spa, a two-night getaway in Idaho, a Spanish wine and tapas party and other prizes.
Sassano said the event has brought in close to $40,000 in recent years. All of the proceeds support Planned Parenthood services throughout Utah, including affordable contraception and sexual health education.
“Birth control is something that women have to have or couples have to have for how many years of their lives every single day,” Sassano said.
Beth Booton, a nurse practitioner who used to work for Planned Parenthood, said people who are opposed to the mission of Planned Parenthood probably just don’t understand what they do. She said over 90 percent of funds go to support health care and education.
“I really think that issues of family planning and women’s right to choice has become a political wedge, and politicians use that to bring out their base,” Booton said.
After attending the Chocolate Festival for 24 years, Botton said she’s always amazed to see how many people come out to support the nonprofit health care organization.
Sassano said attacks on Planned Parenthood, and the election of President Donald Trump, have only increased support.
“If you look at the support, donations to Planned Parenthood beginning (November 2016), there was like a huge spike in donations, and it’s been sustained,” she said.
She said people have come to protest the Chocolate Festival in the past by holding signs outside of the door. Others have written letters to the editor to express their distaste. But she said the connection to Planned Parenthood has increased the popularity of the Chocolate Festival overall.
“I think people show up because they want to show support for Planned Parenthood, and it’s a time for like-minded people to gather together and get that spirit,” Sassano said.