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Fundraiser hopes today is sunnier

Rain washes out half of the event for All Children's Hospital.

Published June 3, 2007

[Times photo: Lara Cerri]
Tamara Cacio of Tampa and her daughter Zoe Cacio, 2, eat a black bean and rice dish from Pepin's at Taste of Pinellas Saturday.

Gina Finocchiaro has volunteered for a Taste of Pinellas since it started 21 years ago. Little old Tropical Storm Barry wasn't going to keep her away -- she's endured bad weather before.

"I've been through rain and everything," said Finocchiaro, who works taking tickets in exchange for eight specialty Budweiser brews in the Beer Garden.

The reason the 49-year-old real estate agent from New Port Richey is so dedicated? The kids.

Taste of Pinellas, along with a telethon and auction, is a fundraiser for All Children's Hospital.

Organizers held their breath as the storm approached, worried about a rainout. As it happened, the first half the festival -- all of Friday and half of Saturday -- was canceled

It continues from noon to 7 p.m. today in Vinoy Park in downtown St. Petersburg.

"I was hoping that people would still show up, but they always do," she said.

And they did.

They came on foot, on bike, on motorcycle and skateboard. They came with camping chairs, cameras and kids, wearing flip-flops, hats and tie-dye. All the while, the remnants of Barry raced overhead and a stiff breeze quickly blew away the fragrance of food.

The partial cancellation was disappointing, said Cindy Rose, director of marketing and community relations for All Children's Hospital. "But you can't change an act of God."

Rose said the hospital has been planning this weekend since January, with the help of a number of city agencies and sponsors. It welcomes the help of 500 volunteers, prints 1-million tickets and expects more than 100,000 people.

The event usually brings in $500,000, Rose said. After expenses, about half goes to the hospital. She wouldn't venture a guess on this year.

"It might be a little different this year," Rose said. "It'd be great to have the park packed."

Ray Bailey, 60, decked out in biker's black leather and chains, jammed to the Neville Brothers and reflected on the moment as he stood just yards from Tampa Bay.

"I love it," said Bailey, who has lived in St. Petersburg about 30 years. "That's why I'm here."

Ziggy Marley, son of beloved reggae musician Bob Marley, played later in the evening.

In the children's area, kids bounced in inflatable houses, sampled ice cream and danced through a curtain of bubbles that floated across a sidewalk.

Sarah Young, a shy 4-year-old, scrambled almost to the top of a multicolored rock-climbing wall. Her little limbs couldn't quite reach the top, so she rappelled down as her father, Roger Young, 37, cheered her on.

"Good job, sweetie," he told her when she came down, as his oldest daughter, Laura, 6, asked if she could go, too. Both girls climbed the wall last year.

But the event, given its name, is more about the food than anything else. People walked the brown grass and feasted. Mushrooms. Funnel cake. Potato wedges. Nachos. Chicken wings. Shrimp. Corn on the cob. Beef on a stick. Paella. Barbecue.

And, naturally, beer.

Finocchiaro, said she's not allowed to drink from the "truckloads" of donated kegs. But the volunteers are allowed one beer at the end. Her choice?

Beach Bum, billed by Budweiser as an "all-malt, traditional American blonde ale."

[Last modified June 3, 2007, 00:29:22]

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