Taste for Los Al boosts clubs as foodies delight

Walt’s Wharf brought its famous clam chowder to help support Oak Middle School’s Choir program.

By Macy Meinhardt

Thousands of Griffin supporters enjoyed a night full of food, raffling, drinks and music last Saturday during the Twenty-First taste for Los Al fundraising event behind the Shops at Rossmoor.

Making fundraising fun since 2001, the highly anticipated event has consistently raised over a quarter million in donation revenue each year for activities and programs in Los Alamitos Unified School District, according to the website.

This year was no exception. An estimated three thousand tickets priced around $65 each were sold by parents and students for the Oct. 8 event, making the fundraiser another tremendous success for participating booster clubs and restaurants.

Over 30 booster clubs and local restaurants secured a spot this year, recruiting hundreds of volunteers to take on multiple shifts throughout the four-hour event.

As vendors and volunteers pooled into the lot in the early evening hours to set up, by 5:45 p.m, the Sprouts parking lot had been transformed into a land of Griffin galore—with rows of food, alcohol, prize tables, and team merchandise filled in every direction.

“Welcome to Taste for Los Al,” said coordinator Larry Strawther, as he quickly paced the lot to greet volunteers and hand out last-minute directions ahead of the 6:00 pm start time.

Having led the event successfully for the past 21 years, Strawther, at this point, isn’t stressed by all the moving parts coming in at once.

“It’s routine at this point,” said Strawther, who has built a name for himself throughout the community as one of Taste for Los Al’s pioneers.

In addition, the anticipation and excitement of seeing everyone and everything begin to arrive during these moments are what Strawther describes as his “favorite” part of the event.

Strawther’s lead role in managing the event stretches back to when it first began in 2001. Inspired by the go-getter parents in local sports communities, Strawther— alongside Diana Hill, and booster leaders Kristal and Paul Cheek—set out to create a fundraiser “that would benefit the largest number of students, and thus get the most people involved.”

“The principle of the Taste was simple. All booster clubs could participate in a large event where the opportunities to make money were better. And for restaurants, it was a single event where they could reach more people with their generosity,” according to the event website.

Starting the event while their kids were in high school, two decades later, the event has grown into a sought-out tradition throughout the community and has raised over $4 million for LAUSD activities over the years.

As the gates of Taste for Los Al opened for the 21st time, Griffin supporters eager for a taste of top menu items and auction awards gradually filled the space.

Booster clubs such as hockey, baseball, show choir, softball and cheer were of the 28 programs that volunteered to donate auction baskets and sell tickets for the event this year.

Sports and activity programs at Los Al High are nationally recognized as a competitive force. For groups like the Los Alamitos song and cheer, the fundraiser is one of the main reasons the team is able to travel to claim their championship title in Florida each year.

Sports trips often hold parents financially responsible for transportation, hotel, and competition fees, thus making events like Saturday night “a big deal” for their event funding, according to booster club president Randy Bolton.

Nonetheless, the booster club’s silent auction tent was packed to the brim as patrons bet on their chance to win prizes ranging from signed jerseys, coolers, gift cards, golf clubs, wine baskets and more.

Meanwhile, drinks flowed, and food sizzled at a steady pace as the sun went down during the live performances by Los Al High school Jazz band. Mixtures of sweet and savory aromas from new and returning restaurants proceeded to draw lines of attendees as nightfall approached.

Playing an integral role in recruiting restaurant and business owners to the event, Strawther says “getting good restaurants” is key for the event.

Coming to serve Taste for Los Al for over five years, general manager of Hof’s Hut Seal Beach Martin De Santiago, says being there “is a great opportunity.”

“Just to lead your clientele and know that you’re there. So even though we contribute to the community, it’s a way for us to give back to the community. And that community has always been loyal to us,” said De Santiago, on the win-win incentive offered by the event.

New restaurants in the area, such as The Meat Company came prepared with their special wagyu- meatball and sausage items to showcase their butchery-style restaurant market. Whereas returning restaurants such as Mama’s Comfort Food and Cocktails stuck with fan favorites from their menu, including their mac and cheese and big burger tasters.