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Eighteen Columbus restaurants will contribute to the first mac and cheese festival on Oct. 14. Credit: Courtesy of TNSCredit: Courtesy of TNS

First mac and cheese fest benefits cancer causes

Mac and cheese will benefit a greater cause this weekend.

Columbus’ inaugural Mac and Cheese Festival will take place at Easton Town Center to benefit adolescent and young adult cancer research at the Ohio State Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The event is sponsored by the James NextGen Ambassador’s society, part of the cancer center, which works to get young professionals involved with the hospital.

The festival will feature 18 restaurants offering 2-ounce samples of their best mac and cheese to visitors at the event.

That’s the first thing: to raise money for AYA cancers,” Mac and Cheese Festival chair Josh Barkan said of adolescent and young adult cancer research. “But it’s also really to engage people that are not currently engaged with the hospital, whether that’s young professionals or families that aren’t involved because the James is a big part of the community.”

Barkan, a 2012 Moritz College of Law graduate, added that he has been involved with the James for his entire life, as his family hosts the Herbert Block Memorial Golf Tournament, one of the cancer center’s annual events. He said he hopes this festival will help introduce a younger audience to the James.

“To get the group really up and running, we decided to do this event for the first year, and make this, hopefully, turn into an ongoing thing,” Barkan said. “The early response we’ve received makes us very optimistic that we can continue to do it in the future successfully.”

AYA cancer research is the main concern for the NextGen society, Barkan said, adding that these cancers affect a lost demographic in cancer research, which includes anyone from 15 to 39 years old.

“You’re a little bit too old for the children’s hospital and you’re a little bit too young for the usual hospital or people looking for cancer,” Barkan said. “If a 22-year-old has a cough, the doctor doesn’t typically think they have lung cancer.”

The group’s cause hits close to home for 2009 OSU graduate Mary Connolly, who is an AYA cancer survivor.

“I was diagnosed with cancer when I was 21,” said Connolly, a NextGen society member. “I was just starting my senior year at Ohio State and it really just completely turned my world upside down. It’s been eight years since I was diagnosed, and I’ve just become very passionate about trying to help young survivors through that process and hopefully one day, seeing a time where we don’t need to help people through that process because there is no young adult cancer.”

Connolly said the Mac and Cheese Festival is especially important to her because it is the first of its kind in Columbus. Events like Buckeyethon, which benefits Nationwide Children’s Hospital, can help AYA patients, but there is nothing that is specifically dedicated to spreading awareness about the prevalence of the issue and raising research dollars for better treatments, she said.  

“I think it’s really important that people understand that there’s 70,000 young adults getting diagnosed with cancer nationally every year, and people just don’t really seem to be aware of that,” said Connolly.

The Mac and Cheese Festival will be held on Friday from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Easton Town Square. Visitors will taste and vote on the best mac and cheese Columbus has to offer. The tasting will be followed by live performances by Arnett Howard and Popgun.

The event is sold out, but students and community members can donate to the cause through the James Cancer Center website.

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