HAMPSTEAD — Kids and parents alike piled plates high with pizza, cupcakes, roast beef, lo mein and chicken Parmesan, sampling food of all kinds from local restaurants.
It was the sixth annual Taste of the Town, a fundraiser held Tuesday by the Hampstead Middle School Spanish Boosters that showcases local restaurants and businesses with free food, a raffle and a silent auction in the school cafeteria.
Spanish teacher Carol Randall organized the event and said it grows each year.
"This year, we have a lot more restaurants and vendors," she said. "A lot of vendors said they enjoyed it so much, they wanted to come back again and do more."
More than 400 people tried dishes from 24 establishments, including Corner Pocket in Plaistow, Priscilla's in Salem and The Commodore Grill in East Hampstead. All the food was donated and holding the event only cost a couple of hundred dollars, while raising nearly $3,500.
Proceeds will benefit the seventh- and eighth-grade student trip to Puerto Rico in April.
The 10 students, all members of the Spanish Club, will travel around the island and improve their Spanish skills.
Randall has been taking students on Spanish-language trips for the past six years. Last year, students went to Spain and the year before to Mexico, but this will be the first trip to Puerto Rico.
"We will start in the city of Old San Juan and the old fortress El Morro; hike and swim at El Yunque Tropical Rainforest Park; and kayak in the Bioluminescent Bay," she said, among other things. "Students will be studying the history and culture throughout the year to prepare them for the trip."
Mary and Meredith Haney of Hampstead attended to support the Spanish Club, since Meredith, 14, went on the trip to Spain a year ago.
"We participated last year, working at the raffle table," Mary Haney said. "We didn't get to sample all the vendors so we came again, this time just for fun. It's good food, good company and good neighbors."
Meredith said the trip was amazing.
"My Spanish got a lot better and I saw a difference when I got back," she said.
Ryan Burke, 14, served food at the event and will go on the trip.
"I volunteered to bring in all the tables and brought in all the pizzas," he said. "All the work is definitely worth it to go to Puerto Rico. I'm looking forward to going to the beaches and rainforests, and if there's a fishing trip, I'd like to do that."
Kyndra Asaph, 14, also will go on the trip and worked at another table, handing out homemade desserts such as cupcakes and brownies.
"It seems like it will be a cool trip," she said. "It will probably help my Spanish, but I'm pretty good at Spanish."
Sarah Whitcher, manager of Cosmos Pizza in East Hampstead, said this is the second year the restaurant has participated.
"We have a whole array of pizza: cheese, buffalo chicken, pepperoni and more," she said. "It's great to be out in the community and make a donation to help out the kids in school."
Sean Hopkins, the owner of Lobster Q of Hampstead, ladled out chili and clam chowder while putting on a fake British accent to amuse the kids he served.
"A spot of chowder love?" he asked. "I'm dying to hear what you think of our chowder."
The silent auction featured items such as hand-knitted afghans, ski lift tickets, gift certificates to featured restaurants, and even a four-week pottery class donated by Healing Touch Pottery in Hampstead.
The owner had a pottery wheel up on the stage and gave people a chance to see if they liked making pottery by hand.
Though the event raised a lot of money, the 10 students still have a lot more fundraising to go, Randall said.
"The students who participated will get the money divvied up among them," she said. "This doesn't pay for the whole trip, but it helps to defray the costs."
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