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It’s a pretty sweet way to spend an afternoon – literally. Participants in the annual Newburyport Chocolate Tour, held this year on October 7, stroll around downtown Newburyport, collecting chocolate treats from more than 30 local stores, while simultaneously benefiting area community groups. Lasting through COVID and staying strong with hundreds of volunteers, the tour marks 20 years this fall and has benefitted dozens of different community groups over the years.

In the past decade alone, the event has raised more than $100,000 – a number that delights (and perhaps astonishes) Diane Hawkins-Clark, who has been the chair of the event for 11 years. “I’ve always known our community is very generous in supporting our many community groups,” says Hawkins-Clark. “People want to help. They just need to be given a way to do so.”

Groups supporting families, seniors, the arts and animal welfare have been among the beneficiaries each year, selected by the volunteers who sit on the organizing committee. The tour always supports local Councils on Aging, providing money for prescription refill and transportation programs, then votes to select several other places working in greater Newburyport. For 2023, the additional recipients are The Guinea Pig Sanctuary of Salisbury, New England Equine Rescue Center, and camp scholarships through Community Services of Newburyport.

Money is raised in a variety of ways. The tour sells ads in the booklet provided to each attendee, and offers a day-of raffle of gifts donated by area businesses and individuals. And of course, ticket sales. Over the past 20 years, thousands of people have attended the event. Ticketholders pick up one of the tour’s signature bright yellow bags, along with a map/booklet, in front of the First Religious Society of Newburyport, then follow the map around downtown, looking for balloons that signal a stop where they can receive a chocolate treat.   

Making it through tough times

The tour, which gets support from Central Congregational Church in Newburyport, even managed an event during the pandemic in 2020, by creatively organizing a “curbside” tour – people drove up, made a donation in any amount, and got a little baggie of chocolate.

That flexibility came in handy again in 2021, when the group pushed off the event due to rising COVID numbers, moving from its traditional May date to October – a time of year that wound up being even more desirable. Now the event has taken up residence on the first Saturday in October – an apt trick-or-treat kickoff for the city’s growing roster of Halloween events.

The tour requires a remarkable 120 volunteers every year, placing people in each store to hand out chocolate, so the proprietors don’t have to oversee the stream of happy ticketholders. Hawkins-Clark credits the community for always stepping up – and the fact that few volunteer opportunities are as enjoyable as handing out chocolates around town.

“I think our motto really sums it all up,” Hawkins-Clark says. “Eat chocolate. Be happy.  Do good.” 

The 2023 Newburyport Chocolate Tour will be held Saturday, October 7, from 12 to 4 p.m. Tickets are available for $20 in advance at The Candy Man, the Brass Lyon, and Affamata, and on-line at Limited tickets will be available for $25 each on the day of the event at the tour’s starting point at 26 Pleasant St.