Anti-hunger group in Utah cuts ties to Taste of Wasatch food event, saying it never received the $50,000 it was promised

(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) A visitor chooses from the tray of Dungeness Crab and Corn Salad with Garden Salsa Cruda & Crisp Root Vegetable from Log Haven at the 14th annual Taste of the Wasatch at Solitude Resort, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2013.

Utahns Against Hunger has severed ties with Taste of the Wasatch, the annual food and wine event that has raised money for the anti-poverty group for nearly two decades.

UAH made the break, said Executive Director Gina Cornia, because it has never received the $50,000 it was promised from the 2017 event.

“People gave money thinking it was coming to Utahns Against Hunger," she said, “and it didn’t, and that’s not OK."

This year’s Taste of the Wasatch is Sunday, Aug. 5, at Solitude Mountain Resort. Now in its 19th year, it has been a favorite event for many Utah diners and the culinary community. It brings together some of Utah’s top restaurants, chefs and bakers. The event attracts about 1,800 people each year who pay $110 for a ticket.

In years past, UAH has received the bulk of the proceeds, Cornia said. “It’s always really great to have this chunk of money for the advocacy work that we are doing."

It’s not the first time UAH had been shorted funds. In 2016, the advocacy group was promised $40,000 from Taste of the Wasatch, Cornia said, but it received $30,000.

Cornia said she wants people who have purchased tickets to Sunday’s event to know that UAH will not be a beneficiary.

Instead, all proceeds will go to 3 Squares Inc., the Salt Lake City nonprofit that produces Taste of the Wasatch.

3 Squares Inc. also offers a children’s cooking class program for youths from low-income households. It was an expansion of that children’s program that led to 3 Squares' financial troubles, explained Executive Director Karen Zabriskie.

The children’s classes have been held in a variety of community locations, including recreation centers and grocery stores. Zabriskie said she wanted 3 Squares to have a kitchen of its own that also could be rented to caterers, food vendors and other businesses.

'We really wanted to have a for-profit component," she said, “that would support our nonprofit efforts."

Zabriskie said she began construction on the kitchen earlier this year in West Valley City because several private donors promised to help with the cost. However, those private donations fell through, she said, causing “a horrible ripple effect."

“I pulled the plug on the construction,” she said, “but we had already incurred debt.”

That’s when she made the decision — without notifying the 3 Squares board — to forgo the Utahns Against Hunger distribution. (Board members did not return telephone calls for this story.)

“I can write a check and shut down 3 Squares,” she said, “or I can keep our doors open and try to get other funding.”

She chose the latter.

A financial record, which Zabriskie emailed to The Salt Lake Tribune, showed 3 Squares Inc. collected $196,568 in income in 2017; $137,390 of that was collected during Taste of the Wasatch. Grants and donations made up the rest.

However, the nonprofit incurred expenses of $214,852, including Zabriskie’s annual salary of $42,575, the financial statement shows. The result is a net loss of $18,283 for the year.

In 2016, Zabriskie’s salary was $71,500, the nonprofit’s 990 tax form show.

“No one feels worse about this than I do,” Zabriskie said. “If there were any way to write a check to them and still keep our doors open, I would do it."

When Taste of the Wasatch began in 1999, it was called Taste of the Nation and was part of a national network of fundraisers designed to fight hunger in America. In 2012, the national organization said it would be taking more of the proceeds from the local events. Local organizers, which included Zabriskie, wanted to keep all the profits in Utah, so they broke from the national network.

That’s when Zabriskie created 3 Squares Inc., appointed a board and changed the name to Taste of the Wasatch.

She’s not convinced that Sunday’s event will be affected by the withdrawal of Utahns Against Hunger. “Most people don’t come to the event because it benefits anyone,” she said. They come “because it’s a really good food and wine event.”

In fact, she hopes the 2018 proceeds will help her meet at least some of her UAH obligation in the future.

“At some point, I hope we will be able to make good on our promise,” she said. “I know what it feels like to be promised funding and not get it.”

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