Austin Chocolate Festival unites community for a cure

Sara Benner

Chocolate is an indulgent confection that evokes a stirring of comfort, pleasure and happiness. The fifth annual Austin Chocolate Festival is bringing the community together for a weekend of charity to support the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Steven Flood, owner of Fat Turkey Chocolate Company and festival planner, originally organized the festival as a medium for chocolate-related businesses to market themselves and to raise money for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation. But this year, Flood has chosen to support the National MS Society win honor of his friend, Katie Fowler, who was diagnosed with the disease in 2009.

Multiple sclerosis affects the brain and spinal cord, interrupting electrical signals to the rest of the body. Symptoms vary with each person but can range anywhere from fatigue and pain to motor impairment. Because of the variety of symptoms, MS is difficult to diagnose and expensive to treat.

“I didn’t really know much about MS until [Fowler] was diagnosed with it last year, and watching what she was going through, I realized it’s a really horrible disease,” Flood said. “There’s a lot of treatments and breakthroughs that are right around the corner. I’m trying to do what we can to get around that corner, help her get around that corner because they’re really close.”

Fowler and Flood attended high school together in Norman, Okla. Though they weren’t friends in high school and led separate lives with families in Texas and Colorado, respectively. Facebook has allowed them to reconnect and build an as-real-as-it-gets friendship. This weekend will be Fowler and Flood’s first reunion since high school.

Before she was diagnosed, Fowler was a Montessori school teacher. She’s now part of a free medical study for an MS drug which costs $18,000 a month and could slow the progression of her disease. However, most people aren’t as fortunate as Fowler. Copaxone, a commonly prescribed MS medication, can cost around $1,700 a month with insurance.

“Without organizations like MS Society there to help pay for research, she wouldn’t have access to that. One of the things I’d really like to see is the turn-around of that whole [healthcare] industry and make drugs and treatments affordable for people,” Flood said.

Allen DuBose and Sasha Rangel, co-owners of Cordial Creations, are launching their company at the festival this weekend. Cordials are cream- or liqueur-wrapped cherries dipped in chocolate. DuBose and Rangel will be offering two samples, their butter rum and mocha cordials. In honor of their immediate family members affected by MS, they also will be participating in the walk MS team associated with the festival.

The Austin Chocolate Festival’s Walk MS team has raised $1,240 for MS research before the festival has even taken place.

“Just $10 helps a person with MS who is wheelchair-bound have home healthcare for one day,” Fowler said. “It just means a lot.”

Printed on Thursday, October 13, 2011 as: Chocolate festival fights multiple sclerosis with sweets: Firfth-annual fundraiser markets businesses, helps mutliple sclerosis patients