Pigfest’s secret sauce: Raising funds through free food

Cecilia Oppor attended her first Pigfest when she was 10 years old.

Sunday, she attended her tenth — when Pigfest turned 10 and nearly 10,000 came out to celebrate.

The annual Oak Harbor street fair, featuring mounds of pork, extra-large piggy banks and pig-in-your-eye pink, pink, pink balloons, served up heaps of free food while collecting thousands of dollars in donations for local charities.

“Has it been 10 years?” asked Cecilia’s mother, Stephanie Oppor. “We came to the very first one and my friend got hypnotized by Ron Stubbs. It was small, crowded but everyone was happy.”

On the menu Sunday: 3,600 pounds of pork butt, tubs of cole slaw, barrels of potato salad and vats of barbecue sauce, all served up by a legion of smiling volunteers.

“We fed them all without running out of food,” said a relieved Scott Fraser. The chef debuted the first Pigfest as a small block party near his restaurant, Frasers Gourmet Hideaway, to celebrate his adopted hometown.

While some things have changed over the decade — such as its size and venue — others have become Pigfest staples. Ron Stubbs, who bills himself as a rock and roll hypnotist, once again enthralled the crowd. The first-time appearance of Seahawks mascot Blitz and Blue Thunder drumline packed in people to the picnic area.

Pigfest has become a substantial fundraiser for three charities: North Whidbey Help House, a food bank; Citizens Against Domestic Abuse, an agency for abuse victims; and Medical Safety Net of North Whidbey, an organization that helps temporarily cover prescription and urgent dental needs.

As people wait in the food line, piggy banks are at the ready for coins and cash. Sunday’s donations added up to more than $19,000.

Main sponsor of the event is Island Thrift. Many other businesses kicked in this year, enough to raise the $40,000 needed to buy all the food and put on the afternoon event. “That’s a first,” Fraser said.

Oak Harbor restaurants, Seabolt’s Smokehouse and The BBQ Joint, are also vital to throwing the annual feast.

“Seabolt’s cooked 600 pounds, BBQ Joint cooked 400 pounds,” said Roger Anglum, pit master in charge of two huge sizzling, smoking metal grills. “We roasted 2,300 pounds here. We started Saturday evening and haven’t stopped.”

Also at “barbecue camp,” volunteer John Ryan created two temporary roasters using cement blocks.

“Every year, it keeps getting bigger, and we have to buy more meat,” said longtime volunteer Robi Tull. “This is a great fundraiser and it brings everyone together. It’s just beautiful.”