ANDERSON — Friends came by the table of Paul Porcaro on Sunday, asking if he was going to sing again this year.
The 37-year-old Special Olympics veteran answered affirmatively. It’s become an annual tradition for Porcaro and his family to watch him perform at the Gourmet Sampler. Porcaro has been participating in Special Olympics since he was 6 years old. But on Sunday, Porcaro’s celebrity extended to his voice and showmanship on the front stage at the fundraiser at Mounds Mall. He was excited to give his rendition of two famous songs.
“This year, I’m singing ‘Hero Comes Along’ by Whitney Houston, and ‘God Bless America,’” Porcaro said. “I sing something different every year.”
Porcaro’s mother, Joanne, said the sampler, which raises money yearly for Special Olympics, is especially important to the family, most of whom were there to watch Paul sing and sample food from restaurants all around the area. Porcaro’s grandparents, Paul and Sadie, and friend, Heather Thompson, were also there.
In the past 30 years, the event has raised nearly a quarter of a million dollars for Special Olympics of Madison County, which has run games for 45 years. The sampler raised about $11,000 last year, according to committee chair Gloria Long, and she was hopeful this year’s total would increase to about $18,000. Long said she was especially excited for the title sponsorship with Edgewater Woods, which she hoped would boost the fundraising amount even more.
The three-hour event offered plenty of entertainment as well, including Porcaro. Local celebrity and Dodgers baseball great Carl Erskine also performed with friends at the center stage.
“It’s good to have friends come out and support Paul and the Special Olympics,” said Joanne Porcaro. “It’s a wonderful afternoon to be out.”
Twenty-nine restaurants, some locally based and some chains, offered their best at the event hall Sunday evening, handing out samples in hopes it will materialize into more business down the road. Hundreds filed through the hall during the evening to try bites of their favorite foods. Events like the sampler are particularly important to small, local restaurants with fewer resources for advertising.