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Mac 'n' Cheese Throwdown raising funds for service dogs for kids in need

Posted at 6:36 PM, Mar 02, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-02 19:03:58-05

CLEVELAND — With a growing number of families requesting a service dog, and rising costs to fill the need, it's never been more important than now to eat mac and cheese this weekend.

It is time for the Mac 'n' Cheese Throwdown. Nineteen of Cleveland's top restaurants and food trucks will be competing for best take on the beloved comfort food in two categories: best modern and best classic mac. And there are vegan options.

Luxe Kitchen & Lounge is among the restaurants that will be participating.

"I think the secret is in the sauce," said the chef. "Heavy cream is where you should be."

And when it comes to her favorite mac and cheese cheeses: "I think parmesan, gruyere and gouda."

In this food fight, everyone's a winner because it's a benefit for W.A.G.S. 4 Kids, a Cleveland nonprofit that trains both mobility and autism service dogs for children, along with a newer and growing request for mental health service dogs, says Sera Nelson, executive director.

"This event makes up about 25% of our operating budget," said Nelson. "With 100% of the proceeds coming to W.A.G.S. 4 Kids, and these restaurants are donating all the food."

Never has eating mac and cheese been so beneficial, because Nelson says both their operating costs and the number of families requesting help have never been higher.

"What used to be a $28,000 experience to train one service dog from start to finish, which at this point is a 2-and-a-half-year placement cycle, is now more like a $35,000 placement cycle," she said. "And while the families do fundraise a certain portion of that, we're not going to pass on those costs to the families. We will fundraise, like with the throwdown."

Nelson says they currently have more than 30 families either actively fundraising or waiting for their service dog, and that number doesn't include the families in the application process or the ones yet to hear about how W.A.G.S. 4 Kids could help them.

"We have become the charity that Cleveland grew off of the backs of people who decided to put a $1 or $5 into a donation bucket on West 6th Street," she said. "Or, shown up and bought a ticket to a Mac 'n' Cheese Throwdown. It is Cleveland who, through 19 years now, has seen the value in what a service dog brings to a child's life, and I cannot say thank you enough for that."

The Mac 'n' Cheese Throwdown is Sunday, March 5 from Noon to 3:30 p.m. at The Madison.

Click here for more information.

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