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Love for Chocolate Brings Community Together

  • June Soh

Valentine's Day is celebrated in many countries on February 14 each year. Lovers express their love for each other by exchanging flowers, cards, and especially - chocolates. According to industry statistics, in the U.S. alone, about 27 million kilograms (60 million pounds) of chocolate candy, worth about $350 million are sold during Valentine’s week. As Valentine's Day is just around the corner, chocolate themed events also attract people.

From fountains and colorful pastries - to candies - cupcakes - and ice cream, everything at the Chocolate Lovers Festival in Old Town Fairfax, Virginia is made of chocolate.

Children and adults alike indulged in chocolate overload.

The two-day festival, held on a weekend before Valentine’s Day, is in its 21st year. Leslie Herman is the chair of the event.

“Every year it gets larger. It doesn’t matter what the weather is unless it is huge snow storm you can’t drive in it. But folks come out in rain, snow, cold. Usually we have an attendance of about 10,000 people," said Harman.

Many visitors start their chocolate day with a chocolate chip pancake breakfast, served by volunteers. In the chocolate tasting area, about 40 local vendors showcase their products.

Debby Walsh has been bringing a variety of chocolate concoctions here for 20 years.

“I enjoy coming here each and every year meeting a lot of the same faces each and every year, and making people happy and giving them good chocolates. “I am often the top seller," said Walsh.

The festival offers some sweet competitions as well, such as the Chocolate Challenge. Amateur and professional chocolatiers can enter their creations in the contest sponsored by George Mason University. Joe Wilson is the school’s nutrition and food studies department manager.

“The judges tasted them this morning but not the public. The entries are judged on taste, precision and the creation itself," said Wilson.

Visitors also can vote for their favorites and bid on donated cakes at the silent auction.

Outside the tasting area, visitors can enjoy a non-chocolate activity offered by a local motorcycle group.

“We are here today as eye candy. These, all these Harley bikes are fun for people to see, and sit on, and look at. This would be sort of an attraction, one of little things people do when they come downtown Fairfax to enjoy the Chocolate Lovers Festival," said Larry Larson of the Fairfax Harley Owners Group.

Herman says the festival is not just about chocolate and fun.

“Part of the benefits is bringing businesses to the downtown. And another benefit is the grant recipients that are chosen by the Chocolate Lovers Festival Committee, which is this year Best Buddies," she said.

That charitable effort is why Melissa Guzman, who runs a chocolate fountain business, has been participating in the festival for a decade.

"Twenty five percent of all of the monies that are taken by the vendors are given to a charity that has been selected by the committee. So it allows all of us to be able to give back to our community," said Guzman.

And that's something everyone can love.