It takes a village to put on a festival like this

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  • The Bluffton Village Festival has always been noticed. How could it not be, with its ugly dogs, funky artists and clog dancers crowding the streets of old town?

    But now the festival is getting recognized for its charitable donations.

    The Bluffton Rotary Club, which took over operations in 2009, was honored for its fundraising efforts from the festival at the Rotary district conference last month. Since taking over, the festival has raised more than $20,000 for local charities.

    The 33rd annual festival takes place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

    The Rotary took over the festival three years ago after founder Babbie Guscio stepped away from organizing the event.

    The organization jumped at the chance to carry on the Bluffton tradition, keeping it essentially the same but expanding the scope, said Jim Hudson, who heads the organizing committee for Rotary.

    "We wanted to keep a lot the same," he said. "It has a lot of that Bluffton feel."

    Guscio usually broke even financially each year. But Rotary saw a potential fundraising opportunity.

    The club made a push for vendors and nearly doubled the number to 170 tents last year. It upped the entry fees.

    The move caused some blowback, along with requiring vendors to have insurance, but the Rotary wanted to make sure the work involved would generate ample money for charity.

    Rotary also made changes to encourage more people to come. It added bussing from Red Cedar Elementary School to alleviate parking woes in the cramped old town. It also created an after party of sorts, charging $5 to see bands perform at the promenade.

    After the first year, the club raised about $5,000. After the second, it was $15,000, Hudson said. The majority of the money this year will go to Bluffton Self Help, which has plans for a new building.

    The setup is the same as years past with the traditional ugly dog contest, cloggers and kids performing in the street and a smattering of tents that sell fine arts, crafts, foods and all the things that give Bluffton a flavor of its own.

    Hudson used to come to the festival when he was growing up in Bluffton. Back then it was just several tents that spotted a street in the sleepy old town.

    "This is a longtime Bluffton tradition," he said. "We're proud to be a part of that."