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Taco time! Sanford Health Taco Fest kicks off Dragon Boat festivities

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Sanford Health Clinic workers JaCinda Degelder, left, and Amy Magnuson prepare the dough for fry bread tacos at the 23rd Annual Sanford Health Foundation Taco Fundraiser on Wednesday at the Lake Bemidji waterfront. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)
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BEMIDJI -- Kelly Martinka described the success of the annual Taco Fest as a well-oiled machine.

Martinka, of the Sanford Health Foundation of Northern Minnesota, said about 60 volunteers came together on Wednesday for what is seen as the usual kick off to the Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival -- the Sanford Health Foundation Taco Fest.

For $9 dollars visitors could purchase a soft tortilla or fry bread taco, dessert and a drink. While visitors ate, volunteers took money, had fun rolling out fry bread dough, threw buckets of ice on drink coolers, fried bread on the spot, or put together to-go boxes of tacos with the fixings. Food lines started to fill up the hill, keeping two shifts of volunteers busy on their specific jobs throughout the day.

Last year’s Taco Fest drew in more than 2,000 people. But, no matter the number she said it is great to see the community come together for a cause that will directly benefit Bemidji. Proceeds for the event are earmarked toward supporting local heart health services.

“Not only for the proceeds, but it is also great camaraderie -- people come together and get familiar with Sanford Health,” Martinka said.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year, 735,000 Americans have a heart attack and it is important medical care is within a short distance. Martinka said the proceeds will go to projects focusing on expanding cardiovascular health care in the Bemidji area.

The Taco Fest is only the beginning of the events in store for the 14th Annual Dragon Boat Festival. Martinka said the partnership with the festival increases the impact both events have on the Bemidji community.

“We used to do this event on our own,” Martinka said. “We are thankful the Dragon Boat (festival) is willing to work with us, and have us here -- it is a great event.”

More Dragon Boat Festival activities will kick off Thursday and the organizing committee has been working hard alongside volunteers to finish preparations for the weekend ahead, said organizing committee member

Scott Turn. All of the proceeds that are gathered throughout the weekend will be donated back to local causes by either Bemidji Rotary or the Bemidji Chamber of Commerce.

“It has been great, the whole reason we have been able to put this on is because we have huge support from the community both in terms of financial support and volunteers,” said Turn. “We are very fortunate to have the support."

Festival events are free and the public is welcome to come and watch everything from the practice sessions to race day. There is no experience or equipment necessary for racers, in fact they will be trained on how to row during the practice sessions leading up to the race day. This year’s race will include 54 teams representing different families, organizations and businesses.

“What is always fun is every year there is probably five to 10 teams that have never done it before and so it is kinda fun seeing the enthusiasm and the camaraderie of coming down here and practicing,” Turn said.

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Festivities will continue through Saturday Aug. 3. Opening and closing ceremonies, practice sessions for participants, food and beverages, access to the team village, a merchandise tent and live entertainment in the Dragon’s Den at the Lake Bemidji waterfront will all be available throughout the weekend.

"Our goal is to bring something fun a family event to the waterfront," Turn said. " We have everyone from age 13 to their early 80s participating -- it is fun for everyone."

For more information about the Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival visit www.bemidjidragonboat.com.

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Sanford Health volunteers Carol Grimes, left, and Gloria Muth assemble fry bread tacos on Wednesday at the 23rd Annual Sanford Health Foundation Taco Fundraiser at the Lake Bemidji waterfront. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)

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Natalie Hilden is the Pioneer's summer reporting intern. She graduated from Nevis High School in 2017 and is now finishing up her bachelor's degree at South Dakota State University in Brookings, SD. She is majoring in News Editorial Journalism with a minor in design studies. Apart from journalism she paints and draws in her free time and enjoys watching women's soccer.
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