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Don't hold your tongue on this Basque Club fundraiser

These days, takeout dining is becoming old hat but that doesn’t mean there aren't still special events to be had. Based on the community’s enthusiastic response to its Fair Food Drive-Thru last fall, the Kern County Basque Club will hold a second event on April 17.

There's a bittersweet tinge with the news that the Basque Festival is canceled again this year. The annual event, which normally draws thousands to town on Memorial Day weekend for a picnic and other festivities, will resume next spring.

For the Basque Club, the loss is two-fold: not being able to gather and celebrate their heritage as well as raise funds to support their projects.

"Between the picnic and the (Kern County) Fair, those are our two big fundraisers for the year," said club president Louis Iturriria. "So we thought, 'Let's do a drive thru event again.' That is so popular in the community. People would enjoy it in the spring as much as in the fall."

The club held its first drive-thru in September to help satiate the community's desire for Basque food — even though most local Basque restaurants were doing takeout or serving outdoors.

"Our sandwiches are definitely popular at the fair. We've told people, 'If you want a lamb dip, you can go to Benji’s, go to Wool Growers.' But they say it's just not the same."

And people definitely craved that Basque experience last fall. Iturriria said the one-day drive-thru netted 50 percent of what the club would make during the entire 12-day run of the fair.

"It was very special. ... Honestly we were very surprised and humbled. The generosity of our members and the community to get us through the pandemic has been very heartwarming to the board of directors and, of course, all the members of the Basque Club."

About 50 club volunteers helped with the event last fall, prepping marinated tomatoes, salsa, beans and three types of sandwiches: lamb dip, lukainka (Basque sausage) and pickled tongue.

Speaking of pickled tongue, this time around people can order a separate pint ($20) of the cold meat dish.

"That is new, one thing that a lot of people requested," Iturriria said. There is an opportunity for people to buy it separate from the sandwiches."

It's important to note that although the event takes place April 17, food must be ordered and paid for by Sunday via the club's website

Funds raised help the club's mission to preserve and promote Basque culture, including supporting education. Iturriria said the club was able to award scholarships to youth who applied in 2020 in part with funds raised from the last drive-through.

Iturriria said preserving the Basque culture through activities remains a priority.

"We can't wait for kids to start coming out on Sundays and start learning about Basque dancing, pelota (handball) and the klika (drum and bugle corps). We want to start using the club once again to keep our heritage and our culture alive."

And everyone is also eager just to be able to celebrate safely in large groups again.

"We all miss it, that’s for sure," Iturriria said. "We would celebrate Easter together but for the last two years we haven't been able to. My family talks about it, other club members talk about it. We’re a large community but we’re a very tight-knit community as well, like a family."

Stefani Dias can be reached at 661-395-7488. Follow her on Twitter at @realstefanidias.