Written by:  July 08 2021 Grills were sizzling and delectable aromas wafted through the Downtown Vero Beach area at the 2021 Burgers and Brews fundraiser to benefit United Against Poverty, where festival-goers sampled sliders prepared by nine local chefs vying for the title of Best Burger in Indian River County. The annual event, canceled last year for obvious reasons, was welcomed back by burger lovers eager to eat and drink their fill on the Saturday before the Independence Day weekend. It was a fitting prelude as the ultimate goal of UP is to empower individuals to achieve the American dream of economic independence. This year’s quartet of judges included Chef Leanne Kelleher of the Tides; television personality Chef Sue Torres; Chef Dan Wood, owner/operator of Café 66; and Thomas Miller, Treasure Coast Foodie blogger. After sampling each of the delicious concoctions in a blind tasting, the judges chose American Icon Brewery as the winner of the golden burger trophy, impressed by their Fun Guy burger, with its candied mushrooms, bourbon bacon aioli and smoked gouda cheese. Ticketholders also had their say, awarding the People’s Choice Award to Marsh Landing, having relished tasty burgers topped with tomato jam, candied bacon and pimento cheese. The other worthy competitors were Barefoot Café, BigShots Golf, Captain Hiram’s, Heaton’s, Greedy Burger, Sean Ryan Pub and American Grill. Sponsors, top-level ticket-holders and judges enjoyed their burgers in the air-conditioned Heritage Center, making periodic forays outside to peruse the various vendors and choose which slider to try next. Other VIPs chose to sit in comfy chairs on the patio listening to live bands playing on the nearby stage. “This is the first event I’ve been able to take part in with UP,” said Matt Tanner, United Against Poverty executive director, who moved up from Miami and started in the position in December. “It’s been months in the making and we’re thrilled. Obviously, this is a beautiful turnout. It took a lot of sponsors and a lot of competing restaurants. We’re just so thankful for the community coming together,” said Tanner. The annual event raises awareness and funds to support UP’s four core programs – the Membership Grocery, Crisis Stabilization, STEP (Success Training Employment Program) and Education. All the programs, except Education, which brings in outside speakers for workshops, continued throughout the pandemic. An Entrepreneurship program is still in the planning stages, but Tanner says that the creative ideas being discussed indicate lots of potential. Additionally, they are launching a partnership with Gifford Youth Achievement Center to offer career exploration programs for middle and high school students, and other partnerships are in the works. “On July 15 we’ll be partnering with CareerSource Resource Coast to host our first-ever job fair. Our goal is to have 250 community members come out who are looking for work,” said Tanner. They hope to have 50 employers, culled from their 180 STEP partners and CareerSource connections. An increasing number of community partners now provide services at offices on the UP campus, including a Treasure Coast Community Health walk-in clinic. “Last weekend we eclipsed 500 vaccinations for the community. So, we’re continuing to look for creative new ways to get people to come in and maximize the space,” said Tanner. He said that their fifth of seven STEP cohorts per year will begin on July 26. That one is open to all adults, and the sixth cohort will launch a new initiative called STEP UP for Vets. “We are encouraging more military veterans and military spouses to participate in STEP. We’ll have some keynote speakers come in specifically talking about resources for that population,” said Tanner. Upcoming awareness/fundraising events include an inaugural River Raft Regatta Kickoff, 2 p.m. July 25 at Capt. Hiram’s, followed by an inaugural River Raft Regatta, at noon Sept. 18 at Capt. Hiram’s.