Hundreds of people poured into First Church of the Nazarene to get their hands on some chocolate. With more than 9,000 chocolate items and 43 vendors, visitors had plenty to choose from.

The Samaritan Caregivers 18th annual Chocolate Celebration filled up the church’s massive atrium on Friday. The event ran from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., with many vendors completely selling out of items by 1 p.m., Chocolate Celebration chairperson Courtney Cain said.

There were no early shoppers allowed into the venue, so people crowded the doors in anticipation.

“It really is like Black Friday,” Cain said. “It’s definitely an event people look forward to. January and February are always cold and there’s not a lot going on, it’s a really fun thing for people to come out to.”

J. Edwards, the presenting sponsor for the event, has been a vendor for 17 years and the presenting sponsor for about a decade, Jennifer Myers said. Myers said they brought about 400 cupcakes for the event, and were completely sold out by 12:30 p.m.

“It’s definitely great to help give back to our community,” she said. “We enjoy our community and love giving back in whatever ways we can.”

While the event is a fun day out for shoppers, it raises money for Samaritan Caregivers, a nonprofit serving more than 200 senior citizens of Howard County. The organization offers no cost services that include transportation, shopping/food pantry, friendly visits and more. Cain said their Adopt-a-Grandparent service is particularly special as it allows elementary school children to write letters to clients.

The event is exciting for the vendors as well, with awards given out to vendors for things like people’s choice and best display.

One of the vendors, Trilogy Health Services, which operates Waterford Place and Wellbrooke of Kokomo, went all out.

Last year, their booth was Willy Wonka-themed. This year the theme was “Be Our Guest,” complete with a ballroom backdrop, a rose in glass, candlesticks and Belle, donning her yellow ballgown.

This year, they won first place critic’s choice award and first place best display award.

Chef Steven Guy said he and sous chef Ashley Schwartz put 35 hours into making their confections, bundles of three sweets. There was a chocolate orange cake pop, a brownie almond pop and a tuxedo strawberry.

“All of the chocolate used was grand marque chocolate imported from Belgium,” he said. “There’s a big difference from what you’d get at Kroger.”

The group came with more than 200 items, and by 1 p.m., they were down to a handful. Additionally, they had a chocolate fountain with marshmallows for an extra treat. Guy said he and Schwartz were thrilled to be an award-winning booth. Creating delicious pieces is something Guy loves.

“I love it,” he said. “It feels wonderful. A lot of hard work paid off. Of course, it was difficult to not eat them.”

Jessica Wiles, Trilogy’s Senior Communication Service Representative, said this is her second year at the event, and it is her favorite fundraiser in which she participates. Trilogy regularly partners with Samaritan for client aftercare.

“This is the best event I’ve done,” she said. “The funds we raise here are going to an amazing organization. We are honored to be asked to participate, and we are honored to help in any way. This is going to a special cause. They are so important to our community and to our clients.”

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