After one year away and another virtual, the Champaign-Urbana Oktoberfest is returning this weekend. From 3 p.m. until 10 p.m., Saturday, September 24th, vendors, restaurants, and breweries from around town will descend upon Downtown Champaign to share in a Bavarian tradition.
The festival is hosted by the Developmental Services Center (DSC) in Champaign, a social services organization that helps support people in the community with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“Oktoberfest is a fun fall celebration of music, food, and beer for a great cause,” said Jodie Harmon, DSC’s Director of Development and Communications.
Oktoberfest is an annual Bavarian custom that dates back at least 200 years. But for most people, it’s just a great motivation to enjoy in some traditional food, dances, music, and of course, cold brews. Jodie Harmon said DSC was approached by two local supporters around 2012 who were interested in starting an Oktoberfest tradition in Champaign. DSC saw it as an opportunity to extend the work they do to the community and raise money for their cause.
Alongside their annual “Tree of Hope” campaign, Oktoberfest is the largest and most rewarding fundraising effort DSC puts on each year. Harmon said ticket sales, vendor fees, and a small portion of beer sales from the festival help to support many of the programs that DSC offers. While DSC has a healthy and supportive base, they see gaps where the public can help. The funds raised from Oktoberfest help DSC buy supplies for their adult day program and necessary items like furniture for their ten group homes.
“We do get sponsors to underwrite our expenses and we’re also selling tickets for a cash raffle of $5,000 this year,” said Harmon. “But then, of course, the beer. Sales of the beer are probably one of the largest factors in our revenue”
When it’s for a cause like this, enjoying some beer in the beautiful Champaign nightlife is really the least we can do. Harmon said DSC is fortunate to partner with local breweries to bring their best pints. Among them are local staples like Riggs, Triptych, and Blind Pig, who are all bringing specialty “Oktoberfest” brews.
“We allow them to bring three of their brews,” said Harmon. “Preferably one for Oktoberfest, and then two of their other popular brews that that the community really likes.”
Harmon said they also work with local distributors to provide authentic German beer as well.
The festival draws locals in addition to visitors from around the state. Harmon said Oktoberfest saw a huge increase in turnout at the 2019 event, the last one to happen in person before the pandemic sent the festivities virtual. She said DSC is hopeful to maintain or grow that surge of interest this year.
“But we are almost out of space,” said Harmon. “Depending on what it looks like this year, we'll have to take that into account next year.”
Part of what draws those statewide attendances is the traditional vendors and local Champaign food. Harmon said the festival is looking forward to expanding the range of food and drink offered this year. “We're excited this year to have Watson’s food truck as well as Smith burger, and pretzels from Martinelli's market and central Illinois bakehouse.”
With all the festivities packed into one eventful night, DSC has considered expanding to the whole weekend. But running a festival of this size doesn’t come easy.
Oktoberfest runs on volunteers, and Harmon said the festival is currently staffed with around 200 of DSC’s partners and family, as well as some student organizations from U of I. This year is especially important for DSC because it commemorates the organization’s 50th anniversary of serving the Champaign-Urbana community.
Oktoberfest festivities will be held in the parking lot at the corner of Neil and Washington in Downtown Champaign. The event is family friendly and will include activities and prizes for even the youngest Teutons.
“We would love for families to come out from 3 to 6 p.m.,” said Harmon. “We've got inflatables, face painting, balloon artists, yard games as well as coloring. Kids enjoy it.”
For more information, and to buy tickets, visit cuoktoberfest.org.
Top photo from C-U Oktoberfest Facebook page.