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Taco Wednesday: Annual fundraiser kicks off Dragon Boat Festival

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Sanford volunteers prep the dough for the 22nd Annual Sanford Health Foundation Taco Fundraiser on Wednesday at the Lake Bemidji waterfront. Organizers said they make anywhere between 2,200 and 2,400 meals each year for the event, which is also hosted by the Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer) 2 / 2

BEMIDJI -- The Dragon Boat Festival kicked off on Wednesday, and one of the first events this year aimed to raise money for Sanford’s new heart center in Bemidji.

The 22nd Annual Sanford Health Foundation Taco Fundraiser was expected to serve between 2,200 and 2,400 fry bread taco meals for the event, which was hosted in the Dragon’s Den on the Lake Bemidji waterfront. A total of 450 pounds of ground beef was cooked for the event and about 200 pounds of flour is used for the fry bread.

“Each year the dollars go to whatever our current project is for the Sanford Health Foundation,” said Penny Echternach, Executive Director of the Sanford Health Foundation of Northern Minnesota.

This year, the proceeds from the $8 fry bread taco meals will benefit the Sanford Heart & Vascular Center, a new facility that will be located on the southwest corner of the Sanford Bemidji Medical Center.

“We currently have heart facilities and services but we’re just at capacity for our patients and how many people we can serve,” Echternach said.

Remaining events for the 13th Dragon Boat Festival include:

  • A brat cookout at Paul Bunyan Park from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The cookout will serve as a fundraiser for the future Northern Minnesota Veterans Home.
  • The eighth annual Cornhole Tournament will take place at 6:30 p.m. A single elimination tournament with up to 64 teams, the cornhole competition costs $30 per two-person team with all proceeds toward the Beltrami County Relay for Life.
  • Minnesota Public Radio’s Classical Pop-up Truck will be at the Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues from 3 to 4 p.m.
  • The festival’s Parade of Teams and Dragon Boat Festival Opening Ceremonies are set for 6 p.m. According to the event website, because dragon boats are rich in Chinese heritage, the opening parade of teams will be led by the staff and students at Concordia’s Sen Lin Hu Chinese Language Village and its dragon and drum crew.
  • The first races will begin at 7 p.m. with the Sprint Cup. Referred to as a warm-up race for Saturday’s events by the event website, the Sprint Cup is a 200-meter course where each team races twice.
  • Race day will begin with the festival’s fifth annual 5K Run/Walk at 8 a.m. followed by a ½-K Kids Fun Run at 9 a.m. While the morning walk/run events take place, the festival will also host a breakfast, served by past race participants the Erpelding family. Proceeds from free will donations for the breakfast from 8 to 10 a.m. will go toward supporting the Sanford Cancer Center.
  • Dragon boat teams will then enter the water for the first round of heats, taking place from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The second round will follow from 1:30 to 4:15 p.m. and the final heats will take place from 4:30 to 5:15 p.m.
  • Race events will conclude with an award ceremony at 5:30 p.m., with the Closing Ceremonies immediately following.

The Dragon’s Den will be open from 5 to 11 p.m. on Thursday, 4 p.m. to midnight on Friday and 9 a.m. to midnight on Saturday. For more information on the festival, visit

Jillian Gandsey

Jillian Gandsey is the Multimedia Editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. She is an Iron Range native and a 2013 graduate of Bemidji State University. Follow Jillian on Twitter and Instagram @jilliangandsey. Contact her at 218-333-9786, 218-996-1216 or at 

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