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Festival a tale of love and ate

Thousands of nibblers thronged Straub Park on Sunday for a taste of this and a bite of that. They munched on tacos and grouper nuggets. They noshed on such Floridian fare as smoked mullet. They sampled more exotic culinary offerings such as Jamaican jerk chicken.

As they munched, they also contributed to All Children's Hospital. The Taste of Pinellas is one part of the hospital's annual fund-raising drive.

The hospital was the main attraction Sunday for Mae Dinkens of St. Petersburg. She loves the food and the entertainment, but All Children's is what draws her to the park each year.

She said she gave birth to two premature children who were treated there, and the youngest, Jacinta Wooten, will graduate from Pinellas Park High on Thursday.

"They know their stuff," she said. "The nurses are wonderful. They have the kids so spoiled by the time you bring them home."

Officials gauged the crowd Sunday afternoon at about 70,000, which is thousands more than last year. But the food booths were spread over a larger area this year, and that seemed to lessen the congestion in front of the food vendors.

The only problems reported by police were a few people overcome by the heat and one woman who fell and broke her arm.

As the afternoon temperature climbed to near 90, the lines at the booths distributing ice-cold watermelon, sodas, beer and other iced confections grew.

And spots in the shade became harder to find.

Rich Ulrich, Heather Engstrom and Michael Levin were taking a break with cups of Italian ice under a shade tree mid-afternoon.

"It's excellent so far," Ulrich said. "There's always such good food."

Vern and Margaret Heipler drove from Dade City to sample the food. Mrs. Heipler said she was pleasantly surprised at how polite and orderly the crowd was. "Anyone not having come out here missed something," Vern Heipler said.

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