SYCAMORE – Jesus Romero was worried the weather might be a factor in the turnout of his annual Cinco de Mayo celebration.
But he didn't expect it would be a beneficial one.
"I'm overwhelmed," he said, "I'm so excited. We prepared for a lot less. [The weather] was way too nice."
More than 1,000 community members wandered the streets of downtown Sycamore behind Taxco Restaurant on Sunday for Romero's annual Cinco de Mayo celebration. Guests enjoyed traditional Mexican food, dancing and activities including pony rides, face painting and a rock climbing wall for the children.
The event has become a Sycamore staple, and many local families, including Barb Larson's, visit the celebration every year.
"We come out to support the community and help out Jesus [Romero]," Larson said.
Romero, owner of Taxco Restaurant, which supplied food for the guests, started the event 16 years ago in an effort to raise money for his local Relay for Life team.
He had planned for a small fundraiser, but ended up trying to accommodate about 500 people. He recalled running out of food and not being able to keep up with the "disaster."
Despite the chaos, Romero managed to raise about $600. The next year, he tripled that amount in fundraising. The event has been a Sycamore tradition ever since.
After almost two decades of holding Cinco de Mayo events, Romero has raised more than $100,000 for local nonprofit organizations, which he credits to the supportive community.
"I've been so blessed to be in Sycamore," he said.
This year's event benefitted the Kishwaukee College Foundation's scholarships and the Kishwaukee Education Consortium, a private culinary arts program on the school's campus.
Christy Sharp, one of the culinary arts instructors, was at the event with her students preparing food and serving guests.
The students often learn how to run a restaurant through their labs on campus, but she said nothing beats the real-world experience they were able to get Sunday.
"This is a way for the students to come out and earn the money that's going into the classroom," she said.
Romero said 100 percent of the proceeds from food, beverage and activity sales goes back into the community through these organizations.
Although putting on the event can be costly, he said it's worth it after all the support Sycamore has given to him and his business over the years.
"It's only fair to give something back," he said. "Giving one day back to the community is nothing in comparison to what they give to me."
Many of festival's guests, including Larson, said they are happy to support such a great event in the community.
"I would do anything for Sycamore," she said. "And I would do anything for Jesus [Romero]."