Annual fruitcake toss in A.C. raises money for charity

Posted: January 06, 2014

ATLANTIC CITY Ready . . . aim . . . thonk!

The first fruitcake hit the target, and the small crowd whooped.

Never mind the snow-covered beach, which forced the event onto a sheltered porch at Resorts Casino's LandShark Bar & Grill. Never mind the frigid conditions.

The celebration of National Fruitcake Toss Day in Atlantic City had made its wacky start.

First up was Don Guardian - the gay Republican sworn in Wednesday as Atlantic City mayor - who said that when he heard about the fruitcake toss, he was "thrilled they were talking about the cake, and not me."

He said the event showed that even on a day that began with the mercury at minus 3 degrees, breaking a record set in 1918, "bundling up and coming out can be a whole lot of fun."

Apparently, there were few rules. OK, no rules. People could stand where they wanted and just let fly at the bull's-eye. Hit or miss, it didn't matter.

What mattered was that the proceeds - people paid $1 per fruitcake, $3 for five - went to Gilda's Club South Jersey, a nonprofit in Linwood that gives social and psychological support to cancer patients and their families.

With an annual budget of $830,000, the group helps people "simply by being there for them" with pot-luck suppers, comedy nights, yoga classes, and other programs, chief executive officer Michelle Chalmers said.

The national club was named for comedian Gilda Radner, who died of ovarian cancer in 1989, and the toss is "totally something Gilda would have done - throw fruitcakes," Chalmers said. "Humor is always the best medicine."

Many who showed up found out about the event by chance and simply couldn't resist such a fantastically absurd occurrence.

Rich and Donna Diegel of Feasterville had planned to leave in the morning but stayed to toss.

Donna Diegel has actually eaten fruitcake. Her Aunt Betty made a delicious one soaked in rum, "but I haven't had a good one since," she said.

Last year, they gave his sister a fake fruitcake and a book extolling 101 uses for one. Their favorite: Use it as a doorstop.

Some think it's time to cease the war on the hard-luck dessert, time to end the "fruitcake slander."

Apparently, they remain outnumbered by those who persist in the notion that it is a calorie-laden, nutrient-barren, taste-challenged abomination.

Across the nation, fruitcake tosses are held in early January, often on the first Saturday, when this fodder for jokes becomes ammo for contestants.

The toss may have started in Manitou Springs, Colo. In its heyday, it drew 1,000 people.

Much like Delaware's post-Halloween Punkin Chunkin, distance was the goal in Manitou Springs.

Contestants there included a group of Boeing engineers who were once beaten by a team of Girl Scouts - the engineers' elastic slingshot didn't hold up in the cold weather. But the engineers came back another year with a catapultlike device to toss the thing more than 1,000 feet. Officials supposedly needed GPS tracking to find it.

Alas, Manitou Springs canceled this year's event because of declining attendance, which some attributed to its move from a city park to a high school football field. That was done to get more space for the launch devices, which had become a problem in town.

"When you hit businesses and houses, it's not a good thing," Leslie Lewis of the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce told the Colorado Springs Gazette.

The Atlantic City event was actually a fruit cupcake toss with cherry-topped goodies made by the Resorts kitchen.

Bryce and Denise Love of London, Ontario, were at Resorts because they're Jimmy Buffett "Parrothead" aficionados, and they wanted to visit the casino's Margaritaville restaurant.

But they were so taken with the charity event they crossed the Boardwalk to the LandShark and tossed 25 cakes, even winning a T-shirt after an official found a prize ticket in one of their disintegrated cakes.

"Hey, this is great," Bryce Love said as his wife added with a grin, "This is our first fruitcake experience."

In the end, the weather took its toll, and Gilda's Club wound up with $110 - not counting a $1,000 check from LandShark and Resorts.

But those who missed out will have another chance to help the charity come warmer weather. Margaritaville plans to hold a "flip-flop fling" - think footwear, not the thing politicians do - April 10.

215-854-5147 @sbauers

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