Hero’s Chili Cook-Off

Have some chili and help your community
STORY BY KASS FINCHER
This year’s Hometown Heroes Chili Cook Off will offer some new twists but will also share the same community spirit, not to mention awesome chili recipes! It’s coming to the Oak Island Moose Lodge on November 11 from 12:30 – 3:00 PM. First responders, veterans and local nonprofits will face off to share their secret chili concoctions and help raise money for a great cause.

If you haven’t enjoyed this wonderful event, this year is the time to try it. It’s the flagship fundraiser for the Southeast Brunswick Civitan Club’s Apple Project, which helps students in Brunswick County’s Exceptional Children classrooms. The money raised is used to purchase iPads and educational software to help students with attention deficit disorder, autism, Asperger syndrome or other conditions that make traditional learning difficult to achieve.
Jonathan Peele, chair of the event, describes its inception. “About seven years ago the club set out to find a way to help children, so we met with a teacher from an EC classroom in the Brunswick County Schools. We were surprised what we learned. We thought we would be dealing with building wheelchair ramps or something like that. But she described new methods of teaching children with autism or Asperger syndrome where traditional teaching methods were not effective. She said they were having a lot of success with new educational apps that are available on iPads. They’re designed almost like games – they’re interactive, there are colors and sounds, and the children are better able to focus on that lesson. We learned that what they really needed is technology.”
After meeting with the EC Director and Director of Technology with the school system, the Civitans developed the fundraiser concept. Peele continues, “We started with fire departments in that first year. Then we added all first responders and military veterans. Oftentimes these people work behind the scenes, so this event gives them a chance to meet people in their communities and vice versa.”
He goes on to describe the new twists this year. “We’re inviting nonprofits for this year’s event. That gives them the opportunity to share what they do with the larger community and create more awareness for their activities.”
The Cook Off will also offer a new cash prize – $1000 for the winning People’s Choice recipe. They have always offered a Judges’ Award and a People’s Choice award, but this is the first time the winner will receive cash. Most of the participants – first responders and nonprofits – have to raise money themselves from time to time, so the cash award will be helpful to their own organizations.
The general public is invited; a $5 entry fee is the only cost. The cooks pay no fee to participate. Most of the funds raised come from sponsorships; there is also a silent auction. Each year about 350 people attend – it comes at a time of year when there’s a nip in the air and everyone is ready for some chili, spicy or not.
“It’s interesting,” Peele relates, “the People’s Choice winner is usually different from the Judges winner. At the door you get your ballot and you circle your winner. The school system takes the ballots and figures the winner. The judges do blind taste tests; they don’t know whose chili they’re tasting.
“The winners don’t want to share the recipes. But to be honest, most are family recipes or they don’t know what they put in it – a little of this, a little of that. We’ve had all kinds of recipes. We’ve had chicken chili with a white sauce – not the traditional thing you think about with ground beef and red sauce. We had venison chili – they called it roadkill (joke) – we’ve had all different types. That’s what makes it exciting – everyone has a different take on what kind of chili they like.”
There’s a lot of friendly competition. “We have many repeat participants,” says Peele. “I think the Southport Fire Department has won the most times; they have a target on their backs.”
The club’s goal is to raise enough money to purchase 20-30 iPads this year. To date they have placed one in 80 different classrooms. With 100 EC classrooms in Brunswick County, they feel confident they can get the remaining iPads needed with this year’s event. Then in future years they will start providing multiple iPads in the classrooms.
The club members also hand deliver the iPads, along with a $100 voucher for educational software that the teacher can purchase. Peele explains how the deliveries are meaningful not just for the students but for the club members too. “There have been some touching moments in those deliveries – a few eye-opening things. One classroom we went to had all children with nonverbal communication. When one child picked up the iPad, he immediately starting communicating – texting, talking – which is how he interacted at home with his own iPad. His parents hadn’t wanted to let him bring it to the classroom; they were afraid he might lose it or it might get stolen. So using the classroom iPad he was able to communicate at school now.”
It’s a fundraiser that’s fun and gives back on so many levels. Be sure to come out and be a part of it!

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