Rhode Island Spotlight: The CVS Health Charity Classic

Crave golferIt is the golf, of course, that has been the draw for the better part of the past two decades. Big-name professional golfers from the PGA, the LPGA and the Champions Tour converge on the picturesque Rhode Island Country Club every June.

Just as the name has changed since it began in 1999 — it is now called The CVS Health Charity Classic — so has the event itself. But one thing remains constant: the stream of money generated from the weekend that every year is critical to the mission of dozens of charities throughout Rhode Island; a total of $20 million since the tournament began.

CVS president and CEO Larry Merlo said that to keep the tournament fresh, organizers changed the format this year, putting together the 18 players in teams of three and shortening the tournament to two days instead of three.

Crave beerAnd that was the inspiration behind Crave RI, which debuted this year — a two-day culinary display on the floor of the Dunkin Donuts Center leading up to the golf tournament. More than 4,000 people sampled signature dishes from local restaurants on Thursday and Friday nights, with the entry price going toward the money raised for the CVS charities.

“Think about Rhode Island, think about the great restaurants we have. What an opportunity not just to showcase what exists here in Rhode Island, but to open it up for the public,” Merlo said. “And the crowds were just terrific.”

Claire Walker is the grants project manager for The Autism Project in Johnston, one of the charities the tournament has helped over the years. She was at the Dunk Thursday and Friday night helping check people in at Crave. “CVS has been very generous to The Autism Project and really a great supporter for a long time, for a lot of years,’’ she said, adding that the charity classic funds go to help run a summer camp for autistic children.

“Not only does it help with what we have for materials and support staff, but it’s also about scholarship funds that allow the kids to be able to attend the camp,” she said. “No one is turned away because of their needs.”

Crave JenniferRight in the middle of it all on both nights was Jennifer Behm-Lazzarini, owner of RED FIN Crudo + Kitchen in Providence. She is a “MasterChef” winner who gave her own cooking demonstration on Friday. We spoke with her right after the demonstration.

“Last night we served 1,500 dishes. I nearly fell over,” she said. “And at a event usually they’re like,’Oh, be prepared for X,’ and you’re like, ‘Okay.’ This event held true. People came out with their families, they had their children, they had their grandchildren and it was so nice to really see them. Everybody was in that community aspect.”

Crossroads Rhode Island is another beneficiary of the money raised. “The area of biggest need from Crossroads is in our shelter programs and our ability to stay open 24 hours a day/7 days a week,” said Crossroads CEO Karen Santilli. “The funding we receive through the CVS Charity Classic allows us to balance that portion of the budget. When people are homeless and they have nowhere to go and it’s midnight, where are they going to go? Crossroads is open.”

This year, tournament co-host Billy Andrade’s team won; it was Andrade’s first victory at the Charity Classic in 19 tries. And it was a Rhode Island exclamation point on another successful tournament weekend.

Behm-Lazzarini said the Crave RI event was a win-win. “You know, I had so many people come up to me last night and say, ‘Oh my gosh this is on my bucket list to eat at and now I can try it and now I have to come.’ It really is nice that you get this huge opening to people you wouldn’t necessarily have — especially those who live outside the city — they may not feel comfortable coming to downtown Providence.”

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