Mac and cheese sample trays were offered to festivalgoers at the 2017 Mac & Cheese Festival. Courtesy of Liz Porter Photography

What’s better than all-you-can-eat mac and cheese? The answer: all-you-can-eat mac and cheese for a good cause, and the good cause is funding cancer research.

Hosted by the James NextGen Ambassadors Society, the third-annual Columbus Mac & Cheese Festival will take place from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday at Easton Town Center.

All proceeds from the Mac & Cheese Festival will go toward the Adolescent and Young Adult cancer program at The Ohio State University to fund cancer research, as studies at The James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute show cancer has become the No. 1 fatal disease among young adults.

Josh Barkan, chair of The James NextGen Ambassadors Society and founder of the festival, said the society is a group of individuals with a shared vision of creating a cancer-free world.

“The whole goal with [the] Mac and Cheese Fest was to really throw an event for everybody — for all walks of life,” Barkan said. “Cancer affects everyone, it doesn’t target race or religion. We wanted to do something that’s such a simple idea that the masses love and to show you can make a difference with just $25.”

Since the start of the festival in 2016, $140,000 has been raised for cancer research. These funds have helped lift several projects off the ground, including a breast cancer survivorship program and a research study on sexual morbidity among AYA cancer survivors, as well as the creation of a patient resource kit for newly diagnosed AYA cancer patients.

“We’re really thinking about where can the money have the greatest impact,” said Mary Connolly, member of the NextGen Ambassadors Society.

Additional studies at the James show that up to 46 percent of survivors have concerns about fertility issues resulting from receiving cancer treatment. In light of this, the funds this year will support the Fertility Preservation and Reproductive Health program at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James, as well as support the National Oncofertility Conference that will be held May 18, 2019.

“Right now, we want to build something sustainable for the future, be that rock that the James can lean on and is a pillar that will always be there,” Barkan said.

Currently working at the James as a social worker, Connolly is a sarcoma survivor who said she views the Mac & Cheese Festival as a great place for young cancer survivors to meet and connect with other young survivors.

Connolly said she hopes the group will one day start a program that will provide therapy and classes that will teach patients how to eat healthy and become active again after treatment.

“Having cancer at a young age was really hard; it affected all of my relationships and friendships,” Connolly said. “I want to put together a program that provides the kind of support they need.”

There are 17 restaurants confirmed for Friday that will be serving more than 10 different types of mac and cheese, including Brio, Fado and Melt. After the festival, there will be an online vote to determine which restaurant makes the best mac and cheese in town.

The festival will also have a live performance from local band The Big Bad, as well as a kids area that will include face-painting, balloon and caricature artists and a macaroni necklace-making station.

General admission adult tickets are available on for $25 and $10 for children through Thursday. The price will increase to $30 for adults on Friday.

More information regarding the Mac & Cheese Festival can be found at