SPARKS — In the slew of unique and flamboyant logos gracing the sidewalk vendors of Victorian Avenue this week, you may have seen a casual Coca-Cola truck or small margarita stand at the 24th annual Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off.
You will find yellow-shirted volunteers at such stands willing to serve you a cold beverage at any time of day. You may also notice a banner on the stand, denoting what the profits of your purchase are benefitting. For instance, the Sparks Rotary Club began volunteering at the Nugget Rib Cook-Off in 2003 to help smooth out personnel issues at The Nugget. On Thursday, Sparks Rotary Club had six volunteers split between two beverage stands, a schedule they will continue throughout the event.
“About three or four years ago a Human Resources representative came to me and asked if Sparks Rotarians would be willing to volunteer their time and then John (Ascuaga) would pay the club for the hours worked,” said David Read, former president of the Sparks Rotary Club. “That way it fixed all their HR problems and it allows the club to make a fundraiser out of it. I think last year we made close to $5,000.”
Since coming on in 2003, Read said he has seen the crowds of people grow by the hundreds at each passing year. He said Sparks Rotary Club is fortunate to have a great relationship with The Nugget and he foresees the chance to raise major funds for the organization in the future.
“I don’t see them stopping. It is a true win-win situation,” Read said. “He doesn’t have to worry about hiring temporary personnel and it is a nice fundraiser for us.”
Nugget volunteers Gordy and Barbara Queen were covered by canopy shade near the intersection of Victorian Avenue and Victorian Plaza Circle, selling beverages from a Bud Light truck. The Queens are members of the Spanish Springs Lions Club and have been attending the rib cook-off for the past four years.
“We give 20 percent of our tip jars to the (Nugget employees) who help us with the ice and things like that,” Barbara said.
The Spanish Springs Lions Club counts on the donations and revenue from the rib cook-off to benefit the club throughout the year. Each volunteer works a three- to four-hour shift then rotates with another Lions Club member.
“This is our major fundraiser of the year. We do a lot of other things to raise funds but this is the biggest one we do all year,” Gordy said.
As longtime attendees of the Best in the West, the Queens said they have not only seen the crowd sizes grow but the atmosphere of the event makes volunteering more enjoyable.
“One of the things that I like about the event is the overall attitude. You almost never get anybody who is disgruntled,” Gordy said. “They like to have a good time, share their experiences and it makes it a great event for Sparks and for us.”
Volunteers for the Veteran’s Guest House were outside the casino doors of the Nugget, catering to the margarita needs of sweltering guests. Cheryl Largen is in her fifth year of volunteering at the rib cook-off for Veteran’s Guest House and said she chose her Thursday afternoon shift for the polite attitudes of the visiting people.
“Well it’s the beginning of the weekend so people are generally in a good mood because many of them have taken Friday off,” she said. “With this shift, there is either a lot of people or not many, and right now there is a lot compared to years past.”
Largen continually pointed to the two transparent tip boxes where customers were sliding mounds of dollar bills throughout the day.
“I talked to the director this morning and she said they could not believe what tips were last night,” she said. “Our wages and tips go to the Veteran’s Guest house so the money we make in tips goes directly to the guest house.”
In the five years Largen has attended the rib cook-off as a volunteer, she said one of the most noticeable changes being made to the venue is the addition of craft vendors lining Victorian Avenue.
“The first year I was here there were a ton of booths but mostly food vending booths,” she said. “In the couple years that followed there were more craft booths but this year there is basically a whole row of them and they are spread out all over the street.”
Stephen Ascuaga, Chief Operating Officer for The Nugget, said the value of the volunteers at the Best in the West is part of building the community of Sparks and ensuring benefits of the rib cook-off reach organizations outside of the Nugget.
“It is nice to be able to write a check at the end of the event for $5,000 to a group, and it is reciprocal for us in the sense they are helping us in a need, but we are also able to say here is a donation back to your group,” he said. “It’s that theory of: if we are making it, then everybody is making it. A share-the-wealth attitude that is all part of building that community.”