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It’s been a heavy two years, but organizers of euphoria are moving forward as best they can.

In the weeks leading up to Greenville’s preeminent food, wine and music festival, organizers were watching the numbers of COVID cases carefully.

“It’s a fluid situation,” Allen said.

This year, Allen and her co-organizers had planned for a less restrictive event, but they are poised to pivot as needed.

Currently, euphoria, which takes place Sept. 16 – 19, will follow a similar protocol as last year. Capacity of events is reduced by 25 to 50%, and in the largest event, Feast by the Field, which takes place Saturday and Sunday outside, the space has been doubled to allow for greater distancing, Allen said.

Some events, like the Songwriter’s Recipe, have been canceled entirely because they couldn’t be moved outside.

And though guests won’t be required to wear masks, they are strongly encouraged to do so, Allen said.

As of now, it appears the festival might sell out completely, something that both humbles and inspires Allen.

“At the end of the day our mission is to shine a spotlight on Greenville and to make an economic impact,” Allen said. “So many people need that right now. And we’re excited to be moving forward and to have the continued support of the community because without that we certainly do not have this festival.”

One positive that has come of the intensity of the past year and a half is a renewed focus on euphoria’s mission. The non-profit festival has given away nearly $350,000 over the 15 years it has been held (this year is the 16th), but increasingly, Allen has seen her mission as a conduit not just for once-a-year donations, but as one that lifts the local food and restaurant community year-round.

It’s not that this wasn’t a goal before COVID, Allen said, but that she just didn’t have the time to figure out the logistics of how to do it. You could say COVID kind of forced her hand.

“I think in hindsight, and in spite of everything, what we’ve been able to do for the last year and half was really build on our relationships with the hospitality industry,” Allen said.

Workers prepare meals at Larkin's Sawmill Wednesday, November 11, 2020. Euphoria Greenville distributed $500,000 in funds from the CARES Act to restaurants and nonprofits around Greenville to provide meals to the needy. For six weeks, Larkin's will be making 3,370 meals each week for Greenville County Schools' backpack program.

In November, euphoria applied for and received a $500,000 through the Greenville County CARES Act to tackle food insecurity within the community.

Connect for Good, as the effort was called, funneled funds to over 20 local, independent restaurants, who prepared nearly 100,000 meals for local anti-hunger agencies.

Allen can’t unsee that effort, or the fact that the community now has the infrastructure to make a big impact.

“Right now, it’s a lot of behind the scenes conversations about next steps,” Allen said.

She and her staff are listening to what the industry needs on both a macro and a micro level.

Currently, staffing is a huge challenge for local businesses. Allen has been in talks with restaurant owners as well as leaders at Greenville Technical College and the Truist Culinary & Hospitality Center to discuss ways to harness and train the next generation of hospitality staff.

Through its charitable arm, euphoria has been able to fund scholarships and training for culinary professionals and students.

This past spring, euphoria donated more than $16,000 to Mill Village Farms for the local nonprofit’s Fresh Out of the Box program, a virtual cooking show that utilizes local chefs and restaurant owners to demonstrate how to cook simple, healthy meals using fresh fruits and vegetables. The program is a companion to Mill Village’s FoodShare program, which supplies boxes of fresh produce to people in need at a deeply discounted rate.

Other ideas have been focused on creating more of a collective voice for restaurants in Greenville, something Allen notes has been lacking, but was more pronounced this past year with the challenges of COVID.

She found restaurant owners calling euphoria for explanation of local mask mandates and information on best practices and aid applications.

“There are a lot of unknowns and we don’t want to bite off more than we can chew,” Allen said of creating a new arm for euphoria’s small staff. “But, it’s something I hope we can spearhead or help coordinate in the future because it’s so important to have that collective voice in the restaurant industry.”

Greenville News