Waco schools to host 11th annual H-E-B Celebrity Cook-off fundraiser tonight

Cooks at the H-E-B Celebrity Cook-off on Feb. 19, 2016 are being awarded for their contributions. The Waco Independent School District raised $115,000 fundraiser last year at the Waco Convention Center. This year, 30 chefs will compete in the cook-off. Photo credit: Courtesy Photo

By Megan Rule | Staff Writer

The Waco Independent School District will put an interesting spin on fundraising tonight by throwing food and local celebrities into the mix, along with a few other prizes and games.

“After the first year, we knew we were on to something when we heard chefs already talking about what they would cook for the next year,” said Bruce Gietzen, director of communications for WISD.

At 7 p.m. today at the Waco Convention Center, the 11th annual H-E-B Celebrity Cook-off will take place to raise money for classrooms. The event is put on by the WISD Education Foundation to fund grants for innovative learning projects in the classroom, Gietzen said.

“The overall goal is we that all come together to have good food and interact with community members,” said Tamra Jones, public affairs manager for H-E-B. “But ultimately, it’s our children and our educators that are going to benefit from all the volunteering.”

Jones said H-E-B really enjoys being a part of the fundraiser, as it was one of the founding members, along with Coca-Cola Waco and Gietzen of WISD. Jones said it all started when a few business leaders got together and decided they needed to help support the WISD Education Foundation, so they combined what they’re good at. Bill Davenport, general manager of the Valley Mills H-E-B, leads the H-E-B team and is also a “forever chef,” one who has been cooking since the start of the event.

“Competing and fundraising in the H-E-B Celebrity Cook-off is the most rewarding work I do all year,” Davenport said in an email to the Lariat. “While attendance to this event has become highly sought after, the unique thing is that all the funds raised go directly into the classrooms of WISD. This allows our students and educators to do things they otherwise would not have the funds to do.”

The event is really interactive, Jones said, and the fun is for a good cause as it all supports children and local classrooms. Waco Motorsports sales representative Anson Massey said Waco Motorsports has been involved in the event for a while, and this year it is giving away a few different units. Massey said he is proud that this event is beneficial to the the community since Waco Motorsports is a community-oriented business.

“I’m excited about the food, but honestly I’m most excited about getting to meet other people that have the same idea we do about supporting the schools and supporting the communities,” Massey said. “Most importantly, I’m excited to interact with people that want to support the schools just like we do.”

Gietzen said this year 24 grants will be funded through the $100,000 that has been raised. The grants supply money for what is not covered in the school budget such as supplies or a guest speaker. Gietzen said the community responded in a phenomenal way after the first event with sponsorships, so they decided to keep it going.

The event will consist of not only the food that is being judged, but games and live auctions as well. Some of the games are Tops or Tails, Shopper Showdown and Bucket List. Tops or Tails is a game where a coin is flipped and the game players grab either their head or their tail, and after a few rounds, a winner is narrowed down. Bucket List is where participants enter for a raffle ticket to win prizes throughout the night. Shopper Showdown is where participants guess how much items cost at H-E-B.

“Really, it’s just a fun night to for a great cause of helping the WISD continue on their great path to have innovative projects and thinking that helps kids get the best education possible,” Gietzen said.

The event sold out two months ago, Gietzen said. This year’s cook-off will feature approximately 30 chefs for whom Gietzen expressed extreme gratitude for, as he said the event would not be possible without them. The entire event and the people that are a part of it are unique and help provide the best education possible for Waco students, Gietzen said. Gietzen said that Prize Patrol, the day the grant checks get presented to educators, is an emotional day that ties the whole event together.

“To see the excitement in the students and teachers is an emotional moment,” Gietzen said. “It makes you appreciate when you see where donations are going and the difference it makes for kids and classrooms. It’s a rewarding day.”