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Sweet Tradition Raises Funds for Local Children in Need

Chocolate Festival at Herndon’s Floris United Methodist Church.

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Senior Pastor Rev. Tom Berlin checks in with volunteers Esthar Smitha and Vinayak Hassan who cheerfully manned one of the bakery sales tables.

The Floris United Methodist Church in Herndon has been hosting their annual Chocolate Festival for charity for about 20 years. What started those long years ago as little more than a bake sale with a few tables of homemade goodies has evolved into a major community event, attended by not only the church’s parishioners, but by hundreds of families from the immediate area and well beyond.

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Raina Wittrock, two-and-a-half, of Herndon gives it her all playing the Tip-A-Troll Toss game.

This year’s affair on Saturday, Feb. 9, might just take the chocolate cake—so to speak. Cynthia Lopynski, Floris UMC’s director of connections, and Laurie Tillet, who spearheads communications, were both quick to direct accolades for the festival’s success to the volunteers who pick up the spatula and run with it. “It’s all them, the volunteers,” said Tillet. “And it seems that each year they come up with bigger and better activities, more sponsors, and just a lot more fun for everyone.”

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Royce Shelton, two-and-a-half, of Reston, lets everyone know what he thinks about giving up his new-found home in the Obstacle Course at the Floris United Methodist Annual Chocolate Festival. After several more trips through the maze, he finally allowed himself to be taken off—to more games, of course!

No doubt the crowds agreed as they navigated two floors of more than 25 games, activities, face painters, balloon sculptors, food stations, and, of course, chocolate treats. Volunteers manned the Obstacle Course, the Inflatable Twister, the Froggy Fly Ring and all of the action adventures, helping young attendees safely toss, hop, twist and bounce their way through the day. Adults did their share of merrymaking as well, participating in the Cupcake Walk, Interactive Candyland, and a bit of hoop tossing. Quite a few moms and dads were also seen sporting sponged-on tattoos and even some colorful face art.

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Balloon sculptor Rick Wormeli entranced his young audience, including Herndon residents Sydney Schneider, 9, Tabitha Erazo, 5, Amelia Luongo, 7. The multi-colored octopus was a big favorite. Wormeli, an educational consultant, learned the art for his daughter's birthday party. He enjoyed it so much, that many years later, he still volunteers at events like the Floris Chocolate Festival.

“What could be better,” declared Senior Pastor Rev. Tom Berlin, “than all this fun for a great cause? This event has always been about raising funds for outreach programs, never about our budget or church financial needs.”

As they have for several years, the funds raised this year will support the Helping Hungry Kids Ministry. “We’ve been partnering on this program with Hutchison Elementary School in Herndon for a long time,” said Rev. Berlin. The monies are used to purchase healthy meals and snacks that are prepared at packaging events by church volunteers and then supplied to Hutchison, where teachers discreetly add them to the backpacks of about one hundred children each Friday afternoon as they leave school. “Years ago,” explained Laurie Tillet, “several people noticed, especially a school bus driver, that some of the kids returned to school on Mondays seeming less energetic and ready for action. These kids were getting breakfasts and lunches at school, but were going home on weekends to situations where enough healthy food was just not available.”

The folks at Floris UMC extend their good work even during the summer by hosting a four-week Day Camp at their facility. Volunteers aid the youngsters, providing educational support, lots of fun, and again, ensuring that plenty of nutritional food keeps them growing and glowing.

Once again Floris United Methodist Church has whipped up a recipe for sweet success in their community.