‘Local on Lorax’ event helps raise funds for Welcome Center

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PITTSBORO — A group of volunteers and business owners in Chatham came together on Sunday to throw a fundraising event benefiting the Pittsboro and Chatham County Welcome Center.

The fundraiser — Local on Lorax — was held at Forest Hall at Chatham Mills, giving attendees the chance to enjoy a locally sourced four-course meal, cocktails courtesy of Fair Game Distillery and bmc brewing, a live jazz band and a live auction.

Sycamore at Chatham Mills restaurant owners Greg and Maria Parker-Lewis helped organize Sunday’s event. Both are board members of Main Street Pittsboro, the nonprofit that operates the Welcome Center. Other organizers were Bill Hartley of Postal Fish Company, Angelina Kay of Angelina’s Kitchen and Sara Cuni of Cafe Root Cellar.

Parker-Lewis said money raised Sunday will keep the Welcome Center open another year.

“This is our major fundraiser,” Parker-Lewis said. “It’s very important to the Welcome Center in that a large portion of our budget is expected to come out of the fundraiser.”

This is the center’s second fundraiser; the first, in 2019, was called “Local on Main” and held in downtown Pittsboro.

“It was awesomely successful,” Parker-Lewis said. “People just love the idea of sitting down to dinner with their community. It was a beautiful day, and it was everything we had hoped that it would be.”

Easing of COVID restrictions allowed organizers to throw an in-person event — the timing of which was critical, Parker-Lewis said.

The Welcome Center received funding from the town of Pittsboro through a memorandum of understanding with the nonprofit, which was known at the time as Main Street Pittsboro. However, the town decided in October to terminate the MOU, which will take effect at the end of the 2021-22 fiscal year.

Since opening last March, Lewis said the Welcome Center has helped scores of visitors by pointing them to different restaurants, attractions and businesses in the county to explore.

“You have to remember, part of that time was during COVID when people weren’t going out,” Lewis said, “The fact we had 3,200 people in there during that time amazes me for our little town.”

Parker-Lewis said before Sunday she expected Local on Lorax to be just as successful as the first fundraiser. By the time the event was over, Parker-Lewis’ predictions had come true: Organizers sold about 130 tickets for the fundraiser dinner, and after accounting for the cost of the event, they found they had raised more than $35,000 for the Welcome Center through the auction, ticket and cocktail sales.

Greg Lewis said he, Parker-Lewis and the other volunteers would like to make the fundraiser a biannual affair, and he said he would like to host it in different areas of the county to reach out to more people about the Welcome Center’s mission.

“We love the idea of making this a county-wide traveling event,” he said. “We want to do something like this twice a year in different areas around the county featuring different restaurants, different venues, different alcohol providers — just have different events around the county to truly feature Chatham County.”

Parker-Lewis said the Welcome Center shifting its focus to be on the entire county will help highlight other communities in Chatham, including other local businesses and attractions.

“We can get even more creative to make something that benefits the Welcome Center that can be in another town or another location next year,” she said. “It’s still a fun, great way to celebrate with your community and enjoy the agricultural and artistic richness of Chatham County.”

This year’s event placed more of an emphasis on Pittsboro businesses as Local on Lorax was held outside of downtown at Forest Hills. The event initially was scheduled to be held at The Plant on Lorax Lane, but the location had to be changed due to weather concerns. However, Parker-Lewis said she and other event organizers are looking forward to expanding the event to different venues across the county and to raise more awareness about the Welcome Center and its purpose.

“This is not intended to be a Pittsboro-focused event moving forward,” Parker-Lewis said. “Where do we want to go next? We can be a traveling show of sorts, with somewhere different each time… it opens up the possibilities for us — we can highlight different areas of the county and not always just Pittsboro.”

Reporter Taylor Heeden can be reached at theeden@chathamnr.com

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