The Taste of the U, the UMMC Alliance's culinary extravaganza, is scheduled for the 25th - and final - time from 7-9 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 21, at the Jackson Medical Mall Thad Cochran Center.
Through the years, Celeste Eason (left, above), executive assistant in the Office of the Vice Chancellor and longtime Alliance member, has attended every Taste event - in all of its incarnations - but one thing never fails to amaze her.
"It is humbling to me to watch how the Medical Center family comes together and how some of these teams spend their own money out of their pockets to have a booth," she said. "I think about what some of those teams did with what they had, how much thought and creativity they put into it over the years, how they have given back to the institution, it's still amazing."
She said it's part of the reason she "fell in love" with the Medical Center in the first place.
"It's been more than a career to me," she said. "It's a place of miracles and healing. How can you not love the guy in the physical plant who plants tulips to give patients something nice to look at, or the former vice chancellor who walks around the medical mall enjoying the food?
"It makes you want to get involved, and for me, that has blossomed into something I'd never imagined. I still get a lump in my throat when I think of the things we've been able to give back to the Medical Center through Taste of the U."
Barbara Kellett (right, above) may not look like a typical adrenaline junkie. But place the director of internal audit at the front door to a Taste of the U event, and danger becomes her middle name.
"People will say to me, 'Let me take over the front table so you can go enjoy Taste,'" Kellett said. "Normally, I refuse. I just feed off the crowd. I regret every year not going around and looking at all the booths and trying all the food, but I just enjoy being at the front of the house."
As Alliance treasurer, she also enjoys seeing first-hand how valuable Taste of the U has become. Late last year, she came face-to-face with one of its beneficiaries.
At a retirement reception for Dr. Ruth Black, former director of pastoral services, Kellett recognized a pediatric patient across the room.
"I'd seen a picture of her before, so I walked up to her, leaned in and said, 'You don't know who I am, but I know who you are. Your name comes across my desk every other week. Your nurse and her team takes you on outings - to Disney on Ice, the fair, shopping. I'm the treasurer of the Alliance, and if there's anywhere you want to go, you just tell your nurse, and we'll pay her to take you there.'
"Her eyes got real big, she looked at her nurse, and then she looked at me and gave me the biggest 'Thank you.' And that's why I belong to the Alliance."
Proceeds from the annual event fund the needs of patients, families and facilities. Tickets are $25 for adults, $15 for students and $5 for children younger than 12. Tickets may be bought at the door or in advance at http://www.umc.edu/alliance/.