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350 volunteers willing to give their time to working gates, booths, parking, and more. Volunteer Coordinators Paige Alexander and Heather Mead spoke about their gratitude to these individuals.

“The Vidalia Onion Festival cannot take place without the help of volunteers. This year we had nearly 400 volunteer time slots to fill. Our community and local high schools showed up in a major way to help make it all happen. This takes months of preparation beforehand, and we appreciate all of our volunteers for honoring their commitments to the festival,” Alexander remarked.

Mead added, “I am always excited to talk about community spirit and involvement in the Onion Festival! Having over 450 volunteers, with a significant portion being local high school students at Toombs County and Vida- lia High Schools, is impres sive and speaks volumes about the community’s dedication and enthusiasm for such events. Craig George and his Forge ministry’s contributions add even more depth to this culture of giving back and supporting community initiatives. We have an amazing community!”

Several competitions were also held throughout the festival, including the coveted Vidalia Onion Recipe Contest, which celebrates local chefs with the best dishes to highlight the signature vegetable. This year, the event moved downtown– to the newly renovated event center, The Dahlia – and had more success than coordinators have seen previously.

“We were so excited about the event and getting to host it at The Dahlia,” Contest Coordinator Sabrina Toole said. “The beautifully renovated historic venue was a perfect location for this event. We had over 200 locals and others from around the United States in attendance. Local merchants donated an abundance of fabulous door prizes. We couldn’t have been more pleased with the turnout.”

Toole said that she, along with assistant coordinators Connie Toole and Denise Parsons, were very grateful for the community’s involvement in the event as 28 chefs prepared a multitude of dishes. “A big thank you to the cooks, judges, and volunteers who made this year such a ‘sweet’ success,” she added.

Taking home the ultimate prize was Pam Bishop, a first-time contestant who decided to enter the contest after being encouraged by those around her, and found success in not just one dish, but two. “I have been making chicken salad [with Vidalia Onions] for years. I have several friends that have always loved it and they tell me to always make extra so they can have some. So I decided why not enter it into the contest?” she remarked. “And it won first place. The spinach and artichoke dip, I’ve been making for years, and a few years back I decided to start adding Vidalia onions, also; so now, it’s my Vidalia Sweet Onion Artichoke and Spinach Dip. This dip won third place.”

She continued, “To be honest when I was setting my food up I was telling myself I didn’t have a chance and I was the first name they called out for third place with the dip and I told myself, 'OK that’s nice.’ I was shocked, but when they called my name out for first place on the chicken salad, I thought I was going to have a heart attack and I was walking back to my chair and they called me up again for winning the grand prize, I was speechless — and still, I am.”

Bishop said the opportunity was perfect, as she loves to cook. “[On] Thursday, I was asked if I was entering the contest and I said no. I have never really thought about it but [a friend] talked me into it. I had three days to decide what I was going to enter. I told my children what I was going to enter and one of my girls told I didn’t need to enter the dip because everyone probably enters that. As usual I didn’t listen and look where it got me third place. Sometimes, “Mom” is right!!!” she shared.

Bishop was not the only one to take home a prize this weekend, as four-time Onion Eating Champion Johnathan Flowers retained his title and won the famous Vidalia Onion Eating Contest for the fifth time. Flowers started competing several years ago, and said he trains by chewing entire packs of chewing gum throughout the time leading up to the festival. “This is my fifth year winning,” he said, “but I’ve placed in every one I’ve participated in. I started out by thinking it was a novelty and in my first contest I placed third and I told my wife that if I could place third, I could try harder and win — and I have!”

Flowers continued, “It’s just a great family time, with my wife, my son, my daughter, and usually my sisters all coming together. But this is the first year that my mom hasn’t been in the audience, so this year is dedicated to Mama.”

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