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Fry bread frenzy: Hundreds come out to support United Way during 24th annual Taco Fest

Fry bread fanatics came out strong on Wednesday for Sanford Health’s 24th annual Taco Fest kicking off a four-day extravaganza of Dragon Boat Festival activities.

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Sanford employees roll out fry bread dough on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, during 24th the annual Sanford Health Taco Fest at the waterfront.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI — Fry bread fanatics came out strong on Wednesday for Sanford Health’s 24th annual Taco Fest kicking off a four-day extravaganza of Dragon Boat Festival activities.

As one of the biggest fundraisers in the community, hundreds of people filed into a tent pitched on the Lake Bemidji waterfront in Paul Bunyan Park to enjoy fry-bread tacos and live music all while supporting the United Way.

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Brock Beaulieu performs on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, during 24th the annual Sanford Health Taco Fest at the waterfront.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

Sanford Health has held the annual Taco Fest as a fundraiser for its foundation services for many years. Last year, the program switched gears to support the United Way of Bemidji Area, which supports a number of different elements of the community.

With Lueken’s Village Foods being the presenting sponsor and donating all the food, 100% of the proceeds go to the United Way to be dispersed back into the community.

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Sanford employees serve up to-go boxes of fry bread tacos on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, during 24th the annual Sanford Health Taco Fest at the waterfront.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

“Sanford Health has done this for 20-plus years, and just last year they started donating the funds that are raised here to the United Way,” said Denae Alamano, executive director of the United Way of Bemidji Area. “It's been a game changer for our fall campaign to receive funds from the community, it’s really important to us.”

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Alamano also added that last year the event raised more than $30,000. This year, with over 60 volunteers from Sanford Health, United Way and members of the Bemidji Fire Department, she hopes to raise that much again.

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From left: United Way employees Kari Kantack Miller, Annie Butler Ricks and Denae Alamano take orders as attendees file through the line on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, during 24th the annual Sanford Health Taco Fest at the waterfront.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

“When the community can come together to support the community, that’s what it’s all about,” Alamano said. “This is huge, this is the largest fundraiser we have from another business.”

According to Sanford Bemidji’s Director of Outreach Services, Sally Corser, the Sanford employees look forward to volunteering at the event and giving back to the community year after year.

“It's interesting, every year (employees) ask me if they can volunteer here. They just really enjoy the camaraderie and it takes them out of their normal work environment,” Corser said. “They’re able to meet other people that work at Sanford but never met before and they just really appreciate doing something different than what they normally do and for such a good cause.”

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Sally Corser, Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota director of outreach services, visits with attendees on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, during 24th the annual Sanford Health Taco Fest at the waterfront.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

As the volunteers took orders, rolled out fry bread dough and served up tacos, Sanford food service employee Erika Ciminski said she doesn’t want to lay eyes on another taco for quite some time after Wednesday.

“This is my favorite event of the year, but it makes you never want to eat tacos again. I need a solid month before I see one again,” Ciminski laughed. “This is by far the most fun event Sanford has and it's great to be a part of this and see everyone in the community coming together.”

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Sanford food service manager Erika Ciminski, left, stirs a pan of taco meat while other volunteers help serve up to-go boxes of fry bread tacos on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, during 24th the annual Sanford Health Taco Fest at the waterfront.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

With a long line of people stretching through the tent entrance at the peak of the lunch rush, the volunteers had their work cut out for them. Especially considering last year’s event served about 2,800 people by the end of the day.

“Just another thank you to Sanford and Lueken’s for all their work on this and thank you to everyone for stopping down and supporting us,” Alamano added.

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For more information on the United Way of Bemidji, visit www.unitedwaybemidji.org .

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United Way volunteer Jeff Lind, right, works the fry station on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, during 24th the annual Sanford Health Taco Fest at the waterfront.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
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Attendees enjoy their fry bread tacos on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, during 24th the annual Sanford Health Taco Fest at the waterfront
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

Remaining Dragon Boat Festival events

Thursday, Aug. 4

  • 4 to 8 p.m. – Food Court open 
  • 5 to 8 p.m. – Merchandise tent open
  • 5 to 9 p.m. – Practice sessions, the public is invited to watch 
  • 5 to 9 p.m. – Dragon’s Den Entertainment: Mix 103.7 Live 
  • 5 to 11 p.m. – Dragon’s Den open: Community appreciation night 
  • 6:30 to 9 p.m. – 11th Annual Cornhole Tournament 

Friday, Aug. 5

  • Noon to 9 p.m. – Food court open 
  • Noon to 7 p.m. – Merchandise tent open 
  • 3 to 5 p.m. – Practice sessions, the public is invited to watch
  • 4 p.m. to midnight – Dragon’s Den open 
  • 6 to 6:30 p.m. – Parade of Teams and opening ceremonies 
  • 6:30 to 7 p.m. – Mandatory Sprint Cup Team managers meeting 
  • 7 to 8:30 p.m. – 9th Annual Dondelinger GM Sprint Cup Races
  • 8 to 10 p.m. – Dragon’s Den Entertainment: Fun Pianos - Dueling Piano Show 

Saturday, Aug. 6

  • 8 to 9 a.m – 8th annual 5k run/walk
  • 8:45 a.m. – Mandatory all team manager's meeting
  • 8 to 10 a.m. – Race day breakfast
  • 8 a.m. to Midnight – Dragon’s Den Open 
  • 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. – Merchandise tent open
  • 9 to 9:30 a.m. – 1/2k run/walk
  • 9 a.m. to midnight – Dragon’s Den open 
  • 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. – Round 1 heats: Dragon Boat races
  • 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. – Food court open 
  • 1:30 to 4:15 p.m. – Round 2 heats: Dragon Boat races
  • 4:30 to 5:15 p.m. – Finals: Dragon Boat races
  • 5:30 to 6 p.m. – Dragon Boat Festival awards and closing Ceremonies
  • 6 to 11 p.m. – Dragon’s Den Entertainment: Corey Medina and Brothers

All race times are tentative and subject to race-day circumstances. For more information, visit bemidjidragonboat.com.

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A fry bread taco is passed down the serving line on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, during 24th the annual Sanford Health Taco Fest at the waterfront.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
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United Way volunteer Rob Belanger, left, works the fry station on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, during 24th the annual Sanford Health Taco Fest at the waterfront.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
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Attendees enjoy their fry bread tacos on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, during 24th the annual Sanford Health Taco Fest at the waterfront
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
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Sanford employees serve up to-go boxes of fry bread tacos on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, during 24th the annual Sanford Health Taco Fest at the waterfront.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

Maggi is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer focusing on outdoor and human interest stories. Raised in Aitkin, Minnesota, Maggi is a graduate of Bemidji State University's class of 2022 with a degree in Mass Communication.
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