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Joe Viele, left, executive director of the Southern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce, office manager Joanne Viele and communications coordinator Katie LaCroix are pictured with some of the items included in “A Taste of Southern RI Businesses Virtual Auction.”

SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — When Joe Viele confronted the reality that the Taste of Southern Rhode Island wouldn’t be tasted this year, he remained undaunted in finding another way to bring the community together.

He, along with his staff at the Southern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce and other chamber officials, began considering options to replace the now eight-year-old big bash that included restaurants cooking on-site some favorite recipes.

“We really know that not having the taste event was perceived by the membership and public as a big void to fill,” said Viele, the chamber executive director.

The Taste of Southern Rhode Island — last year was the 8th annual one — is the autumn forget-me-not recipe of local restaurants and sellers of spirits to show area residents a renewed love after a summer fling with temporary tourists.

Nearly 40 restaurants, distilleries and breweries set out their food under a large tent for the fall reunion of area residents and their local purveyors of food and drink.

Chamber officials have said that the reason they have done the taste event each year at the end of October is to raise money and subtly advertise the restaurants who need local patrons during the winter months after the tourist season passes.

So, if a cooking up a storm brings too many people together in close proximity, a virtual auction could still pull them together right from their computers, tablets, and smartphones, Viele said.

“At a time we are being told not to be together at Thanksgiving, we are hoping that the virtual auction will give everybody a connection and that they can feel it doing something that’s fun,” he explained

This is about rising to a challenge, he explained, that the coronavirus posed to the organization’s efforts to bring the community together and trying something new to boost community spirits beleaguered by eight months of varying restrictions on everyday life.

This virtual fundraiser is called the Taste of Southern Rhode Island Auction. It started this week and will run until Dec. 2 at noon. The public can go to the chamber website (srichamber.com) and will be directed to a Facebook page.

They can view over 50 items ranging from a vacation timeshare to a “work from home basket.” Viele said people can bid online for each of the items.

In addition, people can call the chamber (401-783-2801) to have their bid registered, he said, noting that this is a convenience for those who may not have a computer or don’t want to create a Facebook account.

The auction items will have photographs to illustrate them and to entice the buyers, he said with a laugh.

In addition to the timeshare and special basket for those working from home, other items include a design agreement from DiStefano Brothers Construction that includes an in-home design consultation, measurements, and schematics and renderings for one space ($1000 value).

Other prizes include a two-night stay at Shelter Harbor Inn with a $50 gift card to The Bridge in Westerly for dinner ($600 value), a “Booze Tower” (featuring a variety of wines and spirits with $400 value) and a stained glass anchor from Bosgraaf Studio in Peace Dale ($350 value).

There also are other restaurant gift certificates, donated overnight accommodations, candy and food baskets and even a basket of handmade crafts.

“I think it’s a good response when you consider the conditions and the economy. Over 50 businesses recognized the value of our organization, especially when they are willing to give something because most businesses are still challenged financially because of the effects from the pandemic,” he said.

Proceeds from the auction help to benefit the number of programs the chamber runs to boost area businesses, especially during the height of the tourist season in this seaside vacation spot year-round.

In addition, the funds help the chamber’s efforts to represent business interests in the various issues that arise in local communities and with government officials. The chamber helps them, Viele said, to understand the contributions the businesses make to local economies as well as South County in general.

He hopes this auction will capture as much local attention as the program it temporarily replaces due to various restrictions related to the spread of the coronavirus, especially as the virus is surging in the state.

Viele said part of the reason for holding the auction is to keep the businesses and what they offer in front of local residents.

“It’s good for everybody — good for the public, good for business and good for the community,” he said.

A list of the businesses and individuals contributing money or gift items for the auction includes:

Arturo Joe’s, Belmont Market, Best Practice Energy, Bosgraaf Studio, Brightview Commons Senior Living, Carla & Christopher Crowshaw, Clean Rite Cleaning & Restoration, Cross and Crown Fiber Arts, DiStefano Brothers Construction, Dutchman Dental.

Elderwood of Scallop Shell at Wakefield, Fayerweather Craft Guild, Finishing Touches Custom Picture Framing, Gates Insurance, Geabers Liquors, Gooseneck Vineyards

Grandscapes Nursery, Hal’s Garage & Auto Body, Julie Brayton Fine Art, Kim Stack & Mike Williams, Kimberly Kelley Agency — Allstate, Koolco., Inc., Law Office of Joshua A. Sroka, Esq.

Liberty Wine & Spirits, Linda Musch, Matunuck Oyster Bar, Michael K. Marran, Esq., Mika Seegar, Narragansett Property Management, Narragansett Rubbish Removal

Northeast Construction Services, Padgett Business Services, Peter Geisser, Phil’s Main Street Grille, Ram Point Marina, Rawlings Floor Covering, Rhode Island Credit Union.

ServiceMaster By Mason, Shaidzon Beer Co., Sherman’s Garage, South County Art Association, South County Habitat For Humanity, South County Smiles, South County Tourism Council, South Kingstown Land Trust, Steve Black Carpentry, Tapped Apple Cidery & Winery, The Break Hotel/Chair 5, The Glass Station, The Right Click, Twin Willows, Westwind Financial and White Orchid Media.

Bill Seymour is a freelance writer covering news and personality feature stories in Narragansett, North Kingstown and South Kingstown. He can be reached at independent.southcountylife@gmail.com.

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