The Mac & Cheese Fest has been a staple of the Binghamton community for years, serving as a fundraiser for the Binghamton Philharmonic. Now in its sixth year, it has returned with a new structure. On Feb. 18 at the Broome County Forum Theatre in Downtown Binghamton, the Mac & Cheese Fest will be only a pick-up event.

Due to limited crowd gathering guidelines, only the chefs of each participating restaurant will be inside the Forum Theatre, scooping mac and cheese for each attendee. From there, volunteers will bring food containers with the restaurants labeled on them to the people in their cars. Twelve restaurants will be participating this year, including new additions such as De Island Hut, which will introduce a Trinidadian-style baked mac and cheese to the menu. Returning restaurants like The Colonial and Kampai Japanese Steakhouse will also deliver refreshing flavors and twists on the mac and cheese formula.

In previous years, there were multiple categories patrons could vote for. This year, voting has been moved online due to the transition to pick-up services. People can vote online for the Kids’ Choice award, the “Out of the Blue Box” and the Classic Mac award. Instead of judges voting for the best of the festival, there will be a new award category called “Chef’s Choice,” which will have restaurants voting for other restaurants on who has the best mac and cheese. Winners for these categories will be livestreamed on Facebook for everyone to see.

The Binghamton Philharmonic is hosting once again. This event is one of its biggest fundraising events of the year. People love to come for samples of different, delicious mac and cheese. The organization is primarily for music-related events, which has remained its focus during the pandemic. Since October, the Binghamton Philharmonic has been hosting social gatherings under COVID-19 guidelines that have one or two musicians perform for small crowds of under 50 people. Paul Cienniwa, executive director of the Binghamton Philharmonic, said it is also working on other projects such as an educational outreach program.

“[These projects are meant] to reach into communities that are underrepresented and find ways to pair them up with private lesson teachers,” Cienniwa said.

The biggest project for the organization currently, though, is the upcoming fan-favorite Mac & Cheese Fest. Abby Cleveland, assistant executive director of the Binghamton Philharmonic, said the planning process found inspiration in its early stages in October.

“I had actually seen over the summer a couple of yearly fundraisers for other organizations that had taken to a pick-up type of event,” Cleveland said. “They had transitioned and were still seeing success.”

Cleveland decided the pick-up event was the best route to take, but was still concerned if people would still be interested despite new restrictions. She had been a fan of the festival for the past three years and wanted to make it as enjoyable as possible. Fortunately for Cleveland, there has been an enthusiastic response, which energized her for Thursday.

“[The fact] that the community can rally around these restaurants for Mac & Cheese Fest and the Binghamton Philharmonic — it’s really uplifting,” Cleveland said.

The sixth-annual Mac & Cheese Fest will be held on Feb. 18 at the Broome County Forum Theatre on 226 Washington St. from 5:30 to 7:30 PM. Tickets were sold at $15 each on the Binghamton Philharmonic’s website, but the event has since sold out.