Community eats wings to support adults with developmental disabilities

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JEFFERSON CITY - All-you-can-eat wings, friendly competition and a fun night with community members created a recipe for success at the 21st annual Jefferson City Wing Ding.

This year's dinner and wing tasting competition happened Wednesday. For $20 in advance or $25 at the door, each of the around 600 guests ate as many chicken wing varieties as they could handle.

Proceeds from the fundraiser went toward the Gibbs Center for Independence, a day habilitation center for people with developmental disabilities.

The Wing Ding winners include a judges' favorite in three categories (dry rub, sauced and specialty) and a people's choice. 

Gibbs Center Director Sarah Judd said, "The competition gets pretty stiff, so there's a little bit of, maybe, smack talk going on."

She said competitors are sometimes secretive about which recipe they bring and try creating new recipes to win the recognition and bragging rights that go with the title of best wing.

A teriyaki wing recipe from Champ's Chicken won the people's choice award the past two years, so workers decided to bring it again.

Still, employee Amanda Wagner said, "We might switch it up next year; we're always trying new flavors."

A few years ago, a pair of judges came prepared for hot wings by bringing chocolate milk, which helps soothe the mouth after eating very spicy foods. Judd said the other judges teased them, but began asking for some milk of their own after about six wings.

The Wing Ding has dropped its "hottest wing" category, but that doesn't stop competitors from submitting wings doused in hot sauce.

"I just got one that was so hot, that my nose is running and my eyes are running and I feel like my tongue is on fire," said judge and daughter of the center's founders Tami Turner.

Fifteen restaurants supplied wings for the Wing Ding, compared to 11 last year. The competitors consisted of local businesses joining for the first time, like The Blue Skillet and West Main Pizza, and businesses that have supported the Wing Ding for years, like Hy-Vee and Twin Bridges Bar and Grill. Even convenience stores and retirement communities competed.

"It just speaks volumes to what the community can do," Said Sandy Kliegel from Primrose Retirement. "It's cool to see all the businesses come together to support an event in town."

A greater number of competitors isn't the only proof of how the event has grown since it began more than two decades ago. The first Jefferson City Wing Ding was on a parking garage rooftop, so people had to brave the elements while they ate.

Judd said the Wing Ding quickly outgrew that, so it moved to the Jefferson City Jaycee Fairgrounds before finally choosing The Millbottom last year. This year's Wing Ding was scheduled to be at The Millbottom, but the location was changed to the fairgrounds due to predicted storms.

The location of the Wing Ding may have changed over the years, but its support for the Gibbs Center has remained. Aside from the Wing Ding's goal of raising money, it is also an opportunity for people to meet Gibbs Center participants and learn about the center, which provides participants with life skills, independence and integration into the community.

Last year's Wing Ding raised $20,000 and helped the center buy a van that enables participants to get around town on daily trips. The center was also able to buy new iPads with adaptive communication software.

"Someone who has a hard time verbalizing what they want, what they need, or their choice, they can use this software to use the touchscreen and let us know their preferences," Judd said.

The Gibbs Center is all about independence and choice. The center has what it calls a "communication board" with the labels "places" and "people." When someone at the center wants to go somewhere, such as Target, Walmart, or McDonald's, he or she can find a picture of the location and put it on the board beside their name. This way, even nonverbal participants can be heard.

This year, Judd hopes to raise as much or more than last year because the center is about to undergo a $500,000 renovation to increase its capacity and accessibility for people with disabilities. Judd said it is going to have a new training kitchen, technology center and interactive sensory areas.

Judd said Gibbs Center employees and participants look forward to the Wing Ding all year long, and some participants help plan the event.

"A lot of community members give their time and resources to make this happen, and we're really grateful for that,” she said.