Chefs and patrons of Aiken's Cookin' with Celebrity Chefs, Mental Health America of Aiken County's annual fundraiser, will sample the creative variety and flavors Aiken has to offer at its new venue on Friday.The Willcox, 100 Colleton Ave. S.W., will host the event from 7 to 9 p.m., insuring that MHAAC's only fundraiser will take place in the heart of Aiken for the 13th year."We came together as a group once it was decided that they might be looking for a new venue, and we think it's a fantastic opportunity to work together and a great cause," Geoffrey Ellis, Willcox owner, said.The Celebrity Chef event gives guests a chance to support MHAAC while sampling 23 different cuisines prepared by the "celebrity" chefs, which are individuals and teams of amateur cooks. This year, 16 of the 23 celebrity chefs are returning participants.MHAAC promotes positive mental health in Aiken County and provides support to those affected by mental illness through outreach and education. Its services include education and awareness activities, advocacy, support groups, housing support programs, homeless resources and support to facilitate recovery."It's a privilege for us to be involved," Shannon Ellis, Willcox owner, said. "There are a lot of people who rely on what (MHAAC) does, and if (MHAAC) weren't there, I don't know where they'd be."Although everyone at the event comes together to support MHAAC, there is a fierce competition between chefs to outdo one another, and each chef station is decorated according to a theme."Last year we had a pirate ship - it was elaborate - they even had a fan blowing a billow for the sail," said Liz Neal, event chair and chairman of the MHAAC board. "It's going to be interesting to see how creative they get this year."The stations, which mostly remain "top secret" until the night of the event, will span the east wing of The Willcox, allowing guests to venture from the private dining rooms to the pool area outside.In addition to the chefs' dishes, the event will feature a silent auction with food, entertainment and travel opportunities."Unfortunately, mental health still carries a huge stigma, and so we're trying to remove that stigma, and by doing that we're trying to keep a positive spin on what we do," Neal said.Attire for the event is casual, and all proceeds benefit Mental Health America of Aiken County.Tickets are $50 per person in advance and $55 per person at the door. They are available for purchase at the following locations: Material Things, 752 Silver Bluff Road, 803-643-3701; Tea Garden Gifts, 131 Laurens St. S.W., 648-6124; MHA Aiken County, 233 Pendleton St. N.W., 641-4164 and The Willcox.For more information, visit www.mha-aiken.org, Mental Health America of Aiken County's Facebook page or call 641-4164.MHAAC is an affiliate of the National Mental Health America and Mental Health America of South Carolina.2012 Celebrity Chefs:James and Amanda WhittlePaul BrewerHerb and Janet MattocksHitchcock HealthcareTerry Schilling and SistersLauri SojournerMichael JaraJohn Hurd and Scott PattersonTony BaughmanJay and Tracy BrooksPat Perry and Jason RabunDon WesbyCumberland VillageAurora PavilionChild Advocacy CenterUnited Way of Aiken CountyHarbor ChaseKristen SojournerAiken StandardMike Thomas and Tal WilkinsWayne's AutomotiveAiken PsychiatricAndrew SidersWhat your donation does:*A $250 donation covers the cost of operating Nurture Home for one day.¬ *A $150 donation can provide informational gift bags to 50 new parents through Welcome Baby.*A $75 donation can provide training to identify depression and prevent suicide through Education and Advocacy.*A $50 donation can give one adult with mental illness a Christmas celebration through Operation Santa.¬
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