When Chip Perry of the Anthony Wayne Lions Club received an application on Jan. 6 to be a food vendor at IPFW's third annual RiverFest, he filled it out and sent it back the same day.
The Lions raised $1,500 for local charities last year by selling Philly steak sandwiches, grilled pork tenderloin sandwiches, dill pickles, chips and lemonade.
This year, they hoped to raise about $2,000 for charities, such as Charis House, Gateway Woods Apostolic Christian Children's Home and the Indiana Lions Cancer Control Fund.
Perry placed food orders with Perfection Bakery and Jamison Meats. But before he went to Gordon Food Service to pick up bulk supplies June 15, Perry contacted the event's FoodFest Committee Chairperson Chris Forbing of Forbing Enterprises to confirm the Lions' attendance.
“I was told, 'The space we gave you last year we don't have anymore because we had to reduce the number of food vendors this year,'” Perry said. “I told him that nobody called me. He said, 'I can't help you with that.'”
Fewer nonprofit groups are participating in FoodFest at IPFW's RiverFest this year.
After canceling his Lions Club's food orders, Perry found that six new commercial vendors will be at RiverFest, replacing the Lions and two other vendors: the commercial Timmy's BBQ and the nonprofit Friends of the Third World.
“I feel deceived,” Perry said. “We've been unfairly and unjustly treated.”
Friends of the Third World Board Member Jim Goetsch tells a similar story.
Like Perry, Goetsch applied to RiverFest's FoodFest before the Feb. 1 deadline. He didn't hear back from the organization until a member of his committee, Kristy Ohneck of IPFW Collegiate Connections, spoke with an advertising agency employed by IPFW about two weeks ago, according to Goetsch.
Last year, the group sold tea and barely broke even, according to Ohneck.
“All we serve is drinks, so it's not a big deal,” Goetsch said. “We volunteer mostly to tell people about our group. We don't expect to make a lot of money.”
Friends of the Third World trains local people for jobs and sells fair-trade products made by enterprising groups in Third World countries.
Goetsch had not ordered supplies for RiverFest, but the committee's lack of communication surprised him, too.
“We weren't told much,” Goetsch said. “If we hadn't called, we probably wouldn't have heard a thing.”
This year, the only nonprofit vendor at RiverFest is the Kiwanis, who will be serving walking tacos, pork chops and pulled pork.
The Anthony Wayne Lions and Friends of the Third World have been vendors at RiverFest since it started in June 2010, and Project Manager Sarah Payne said the FoodFest committee tried to give first preference to their past supporters.
“We wanted those folks who had risked trying us out and giving us support to get first priority this year,” Payne said. “We also limit it to only people within 100 miles of Fort Wayne. Then (we) looked for what would meet the needs of our visitors.”
But Forbing said the committee wanted to have as much variety as possible, which led to eliminating some nonprofits and loyal supporters because they offer cliche festival foods.
“It doesn't matter if they are nonprofit or not,” Forbing said. “We looked at what we haven't had in the past, and what we wanted to have this year.”
The list of new vendors includes West Coast Tea, Blondie's Cookies, Funnel Cakes, Red Barn elephant ears, Auntie Anne's pretzels, and Almond roasted almonds.
For the last two years, RiverFest covered half of the rental fee for nonprofit vendors. In 2011, for example, the fee for a 10-foot-by-20-foot space was $50 for nonprofits and $100 for commercial vendors.
This year, the fee was doubled to a flat rate of $200 per vendor for a 15-foot-by-20-foot space.
Forbing says one reason for the price increase is that RiverFest will provide water for the vendors this year. In years past, vendors have been responsible for their own water and utilities.
“This year, we asked: Why are we bringing these people in?” Forbing said. “We're doing this to raise money for the river. We're a nonprofit, too.”
Since 2010, RiverFest has donated more than $70,000 to support the initiatives of the nonprofit group Friends of the River, which uses the funds for waterfront development as well as protection and preservation of the rivers, according to Payne.
But, for Perry, the problem isn't the festival's mission.
It's that commercial vendors are filling spaces that could be taken by nonprofit counterparts, and it's happening without much explanation.