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If there were ever doubts about how much folks around here like wings, it was easily put to rest June 30 when Lincoln’s Railyard filled with happy wing-eaters, there to support United Way of Lincoln and Lancaster County. With wet wipes at the ready, nearly 800 ticket holders donned lanyards that gave them access to eight vendors and a chance to vote for their favorite messy indulgence.

WingFest 2018 was a project of United Way’s Emerging Leaders United group that wanted something unique to support Lincoln youth in the summer, mainly through the community learning centers at Campbell and McPhee elementary schools.

“We were looking for an event that was different, that we could hold each year and build on for the future,” said Chrissy Waido, chair of Emerging Leaders.

The sold-out event raised over $13,000 to support summer enrichment programs.

With the support of sponsors, planning for the inaugural event was launched in January. Lynn Roper, senior vice president with Merrill Lynch, said that offering financial backing made sense.

“We wanted to be part of the energy of the Emerging Leaders group, support United Way, celebrate our 40th anniversary and – we really liked this innovative idea,” Roper said.

Those attending also savored the idea. Andrew and Crystal McDaniel of Lincoln gave a thumbs-up to the event and to the Longwell’s wings they were sampling. “We love wings, and this was a great thing to do on a summer evening,” said Crystal.

Tabby Steel and Thomas White from Beatrice, who attended with their spouses, worked their way through all the vendors and said the tasty event was worth the drive. They heard about it through Facebook and reserved their spots early.

Miller Time Pub and Grill took home the Judges’ Prize for its spicy peanut butter and jelly take on wings. “We wanted to get the word out about our unique wings,” said Aaron Fahey, assistant restaurant manager. “But it was more than about us. We were excited to support a great cause in the community.”

The line never ended at the Legends Patio Grill & Bar booth, said Matt Lengel, general manager and winner of the People’s Choice award. Legends’ cooks prepped 1,500 wings that featured their exclusive “all-in-one” sauce, which includes celery salt, ranch dressing and bleu cheese.

“We loved the event – it was a blast,” Lengel said, adding that helping United Way made sense for Legends.

The vendor lineup also included Brewsky’s Food & Spirits, Buffalo Wild Wings, Buffalo Wings & Rings, Cappy’s and The Watering Hole.

Emerging Leaders United produce events to support United Way’s “ENGAGE. EMPOWER. GRADUATE.” initiatives that work to ensure children and their families, regardless of circumstances, have the opportunity to succeed in school and life. They organize networking and Lunch and Learn sessions among other activities throughout the year. To learn more, go to unitedwaylincoln.org.

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