Fall Festival legacy finds new home with I.V. Food Bank

This article was originally published by Valley Women Magazine.

By Celeste Alvarez

For 60 years, Imperial Valley women have worked together to usher in the social season with one signature community event known as the Fall Festival of Palate and Palette.

“It was lovely and I hated to see it go away,” said Sara Griffen, Executive Director of the Imperial Valley Food Bank, during a conversation in August about the popular fundraising event previously hosted by Sts. Peter and Paul Episcopal Church in El Centro.

“When I moved to the Valley, we attended the event and it was always the beginning of good weather,” Griffen said. “It was so nice to be outside with people you haven’t seen in months because it was too hot to gather.”

Since its start in 1959, the annual Palate and Palette festival sought to kick off the fall season with an art show featuring a variety of original pieces from local artists. Entries were arranged throughout the church’s walls and included watercolors, oils, acrylics, mixed media and photography.

“What we were doing was trying to do things for the community,” Fall Festival President and Chairman Frances Rice said during a conversation in mid-July at the local episcopal church.

“That’s why there was art from local artists and the music was from a local band.”

String lights and jazz music also created a romantic ambience in the church’s back courtyard, where guests were invited to explore their palates with wine, beer, exotic pâtés, savory cheeses and fresh fruit.

“Most people don’t know how much is involved in putting on this event,” Rice said.

A committee of local women had previously assisted Rice in organizing the annual fundraiser, however in recent years Rice has had to rely more heavily on her own efficiency to offset the lack of available volunteers.

“There's a lot of people that like to do something, but they don’t want to do it all the time,” Rice explained.

As a result of decreasing committee participation, the 60th annual Palate and Palette festival in 2019 proved to be the last event hosted by the local episcopal church, explained Rice.

“I was doing a lot of it on my own toward the end,” Rice said. “The pandemic came so it was a natural break for us.”

For many in the Imperial Valley, the festival’s end marked the end of an era. For others it was an opportunity to step up and step in.

“I didn't want to see it just go away,” Griffen said. During the festival’s three year hiatus, Griffen

had the idea to approach Rice about the possibility of handing off the popular event to the I.V. Food Bank.

“If it’s a no then it’s a no, but let's give it a try,” she said. “Why not?”

Ultimately Rice was excited to see the event revitalized following her meeting with Griffen earlier this year where she learned more about the local nonprofit’s interest in hosting the festival.

“I came away from the meeting so hyped up,” Rice recalled. “It was really fun for me to see their interest.”

Similarly, Griffen was also thrilled to have the opportunity to reintroduce one of the Valley’s beloved festivals to the community.

“We are lucky to have the hand-off from the church to the Food Bank and to have their support of it continuing with a different host and location,” Griffen said. “We will try to keep most of the elements the same.”

From the local artwork to the delicious appetizers, patrons will be able to enjoy many of the festival’s favorites while experiencing a new venue inside the I.V. Food Bank’s warehouse and back outdoor amphitheater, known formally as Imperial Grove, Griffen explained.

“The difference will be adding the third Pallet, which is kind of just a fun play on words, but moving the artwork from the church sanctuary into our warehouse where our pallets actually store food, it just seemed like a cool thing to do,” Griffen said.

The fall festival will return Thursday, October 27th under the name Imperial Valley Palate, Palette & Pallet. Pre-sale tickets will also reflect the festival’s traditional $25 ticket price, Griffen confirmed.

“The people that created this event aren’t here anymore, but they nurtured it and they continued to put it on every year with love and care,” Griffen said. “We want to honor that and move it forward so that it is enjoyable for everyone in the Valley for many years ahead.”

This year’s festival will be organized by a mixture of women made up of Food Bank staff and community volunteers.

“It will be mostly women run, but that doesn't mean only women work at the Food Bank,” Griffen said. “Men will be involved as well.”

Rice will also be among those volunteering within the new Palate, Palette & Pallet planning committee.

“We are fortunate to have the knowledge of those that came before us and it will help influence where we go with this event,” Griffen said.

Also joining the newly formed committee will be Imperial resident Marty Dineley, a longtime fan of the former festival.

“I’m a big supporter of the Food Bank in the first place and when Sara told me they were going to do this I was so excited I said, ‘Absolutely count me in,’” Dineley said, following the committee’s first meeting held in early August. “This was one of my favorite events, I didn’t miss one.”

Although Dineley’s favorite aspect of the festival was the tasty food, she is most looking forward to capturing the same essence of community togetherness the formal event once brought.

“That’s really what it was. It was just being a part of the whole community and seeing everybody,” Dineley said.

Rice was reminded of those similar sentiments when considering her own reasons for bringing the festival to the I. V. Food Bank.

“We like to do things for the community and the Food Bank is doing some awesome stuff for the community,” Rice said. “I’m excited to be a part of it.”