More than 3,000 people will party when the Youth Service Bureau hosts its 35th annual Chef Soirée.
But just as many at-risk youths and their family members will benefit from the generosity of people who offer their services to make the event the success.
This year's Chef Soirée will take place at the Covington Trailhead on March 17 from 5-9 p.m.
The event is a gastronomic celebration featuring more than 80 food and beverage vendors from throughout the area who donate their talents to the cause. Live music is played throughout, and one lucky patron will win either a 2019 Ford Mustang or Escape that will be raffled to raise money for the organization’s youth advocacy, counseling and intervention programs.
Bobbie Calandro, restaurant coordinator for the event, got involved with the event in 1996 when the previous coordinator fell ill. She said that the mission of the organization kept her involved in the event year after year.
“Over the years, I began to learn more about the Youth Service Bureau and, just as time went on, I am still here 23 years later,” Calandro said. “They are here to give these young people a place, you know, a way to change their lives.”
Mary Slazer, president and CEO of the bureau, got her start with the organization 20 years ago as a volunteer court advocate for abused or neglected children. She emphasized the importance of the bureau’s connections with the legal system in the parish.
“When a child in St. Tammany Parish commits a delinquent offense they are often referred to the Youth Service Bureau to get some services like anger management, parenting instruction for the caregiver, substance abuse education, shoplifting prevention and related education to help them choose a new direction and avoid further involvement in the juvenile justice system,” Slazer said.
Slazer added that the organization has seen an increase in the demand for its services in recent years. In the past 90 days, the Youth Service Bureau has received a 57 percent increase in referrals to its outpatient substance abuse treatment program compared to this time last year, according to Slazer.
“There is a real need for this in St. Tammany Parish. Most of our referrals come from the school system. There are a lot of teenagers who are at least experimenting with drugs and alcohol and need these services,” Slazer said.
She added that as the demand for the organization’s services have grown over time, so has interest in the Chef Soirée. What started out as a coat and tie event with about a dozen vendors and nearly 500 attendees is projected to draw in thousands of patrons in its 35th year.
While the soiree accounts for a large portion of the organization’s budget, Calandro said that it's about more than just fundraising.
“It’s about fundraising (but also) awareness,” Calandro said. “You know the news. News blasts constantly about kids that are abused and kids that are just struggling with life in general. These kids are kind of tossed aside. Well, that’s when the Youth Service Bureau opens their doors. “
Online ticket sales for 35th annual Chef Soirée have ended, but may still be available at Braswell Drugs and Paisley Boutique.
Car raffle tickets cost $25 or five for $100 and still can be purchased online.
For more information about the YSB and Chef Soirée, go online to www.chefsoiree.com.