There's no better fund raiser in the world than one where you get to try great food.
And that's exactly what many people are going to do when the 11th annual Southwest Florida Gumbo Fest comes to the Shell Factory in North Fort Myers on Sunday, Jan. 27, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The Gumbo Fest, sponsored by Sam Galloway Ford, will feature music, children's activities, beer, cocktails, Jello shots and, of course, gumbo, and unlike the early years, admission is free of charge.
According to Rick Tupper, marketing director at the Shell Factory, it's the busiest day of the year.
"We've got a lot of the snowbirds who look forward to it every year. We average between 4,000 and 6,000 people per year," Tupper said. "Our gift shop, fun park and nature area will all be open. Being sponsored by Sam Galloway really helps us."
The main attraction is always the gumbo, a rich soup built around a base of a dark, rich roux supplemented with celery, onion, peppers, spices and meat or seafood.
This year's gumbo selection will include fish and chicken, which will be made by the Shell Factory's chef, unlike in past years where they would have a gumbo cook-off.
"We used to have gumbo contests in the past, but it was hard to get people to come and do it," Tupper said. "Chef Michael will be making it this year."
Gumbo Fest will also once again feature Fort Myers' own Cracker Blues as its headlining act. The band has played many major festivals and opened for major acts including Charlie Daniels, Eddie Money, Foreigner, Lee Brice and others.
Two other local bands, Certified and a Cajun group TurtleGator, will also perform.
All proceeds will benefit The Nature Park Environmental Education Foundation, which provides the upkeep for the Shell Factory's park and the animals which reside there.
"We have more than 350 kinds of animals, anywhere from alligators to a Eurasian snow owl to a zebra and a camel," Tupper said. "We have a petting farm, an Ecolab and touch center. It's an interesting place."
Also this weekend at the Shell Factory, Aqua Dog Sports will hold the Outdoor Big Air, Extreme Vertical & Speed Retrieve, Iron Dog Challenges.
The event is one of the biggest on the circuit and is a national qualifier. The fun begins on Friday, Jan. 25, at noon; and Saturday, Jan. 26, and Sunday, Jan. 27, both at 8:30 a.m.