CASA GRANDE -- For more than 30 years, the annual Taste of Casa Grande has been a highlight of the local culinary scene, bringing together food lovers and area food purveyors and restaurants.

But the COVID pandemic made an impact on the annual Casa Grande foodie tradition.

The event was canceled due to the pandemic in 2020, and for 2021, Against Abuse Inc., which puts on Taste of Casa Grande every year as a fundraiser for its shelters and services, will host a similar, COVID-safe event with a different name, a new format and a lower price tag.

The Taste of the Taste Around Town will replace the Taste of Casa Grande this year.

It is still a food-focused fundraiser but unlike the Taste of Casa Grande, ticket-buyers will not gather in one place to sample treats and goodies sold by various restaurants.

Instead, they'll have 30 days to visit the restaurants in person to access specials and the full menu.

"The Taste of the Taste Around Town is a month-long fundraiser that will allow people to taste around town," said Against Abuse, Inc. Executive Director Pat Griffen. "They will help support Against Abuse and the local restaurant industry while sampling mouthwatering food ranging from Mexican, barbecue and Italian foods."

It's set to begin in September. Tickets to the Taste of Taste Around Town will sell for $25 each.

So far, more than 20 restaurants have signed on to the event, but Griffen believes more will join the cause.

"Restaurants seem excited for this," Griffen said. "They've been struggling since COVID. This gives them a way to participate and show themselves to the community."

The need for the annual fundraiser was not diminished by COVID.

"Food and labor costs are rising but one thing that has not stopped is domestic abuse," Griffen said. "COVID and quarantining be been very difficult for some people and since COVID, we've received an inordinate about of referrals."

As well as raising money, the annual Against Abuse fundraisers also draw attention to the issue of domestic violence.

With the exception of 2020, the Taste of Casa Grande had been held every year since 1985, in October to coincide with Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Griffen hopes the traditional Taste of Casa Grande event will return in 2022.

"COVID has taken the form of many issues for our agency, not the least is our fundraising ability," Griffen said.

The event began more than three decades ago as a small cocktail party attended by more than 150 people.

The following year, the event took its current form with several restaurants participating and offering bite-size samples of their specialties.

Over the years the number of people attending the event has grown. At the most recent event in 2019, more than 700 people attended and more than two dozen restaurants and food trucks participated.

Participating restaurants donate all the food. During the event, each restaurant sets up a table, manned by their employees, and hands out free samples of food or beverages.

For the past few years, a celebrity chef also took part in the event, offering cooking demonstrations and food samples.

For the first few years of the event, the location alternated between various host restaurants, but for the last few years, Taste of Casa Grande was held at Eva's Fine Mexican Food restaurant.

Volunteers, including students from Casa Grande Union High School's DECA program and students with the U.S. Border Patrol's Explorer program, also generally help with the event.

Raffles, gift baskets and high-ticket prizes have also been featured at the event.

Against Abuse Inc. provides social and behavioral health services in Pinal County and maintains shelters in Casa Grande and Maricopa for victims of domestic abuse.

The organization also offers group and out-patient, community-based services, supervised visitation and safe exchange services, case management, sexual assault advocacy and services, animal safe homes, volunteer programs and a thrift store/clothing bank.

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Melissa St. Aude is the Arts & Entertainment editor at PinalCentral. She can be reached at mstaude@pinalcentral.com.

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