Chili teams compete to benefit Natchez Childrens Home

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 14, 2005

NATCHEZ &8212; Combine fellowship, fund-raising and a hearty lunch, add a little entertainment and a healthy dose of competition, and you&8217;ve got one of the most popular benefit events to hit the Miss-Lou each year.

That&8217;s the Annual Chili Cook-Off, held each year around this time to raise funds for the Natchez Children&8217;s Home and held this year at the corner of Canal and Franklin streets.

Since the nonprofit doesn&8217;t apply for any grants or get money from the United Way, it relies on its tried-and-true annual fund-raisers and on donations from the public to make ends meet.

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That&8217;s even more true this year, since Katrina diverted many of the dollars nonprofits would usually get to the hurricane relief effort. Then there&8217;s the effort the Children&8217;s Home makes every year to make Christmas special for each and every one its children &8212; an effort that isn&8217;t cheap. &8220;Especially during this season, every dollar we get is so important,&8221; said Nancy Hungerford, the home&8217;s executive director.

The cook-off started back in the 1980s as the brainchild of Children&8217;s Home supporter Mike Ash, who started the first small event at Liberty Park, Hungerford said. Since then, it&8217;s grown to 14 teams representing law enforcement and fire departments, local businesses, colleges and more, each making their best effort to beat each other&8217;s entries. And for that reason, many teams kept their secret ingredients close to the vest.

However, they would give their best sales pitches to those who came by their booths, for the public&8217;s votes would determine the People&8217;s Choice Award. And you would expect nothing less than a perfect pitch from the team from Alcorn State University&8217;s MBA program.

&8220;Our pitch? It makes you smarter,&8221; said program alumnus John Ballard.

Teams also spiced up their booths with decorations and even a gimmick or two. Respiratory care students from Copiah-Lincoln Community College had a mannequin with a gas mask who, as she &8220;breathed,&8221; set off a whoopee cushion; Rhino Graphics had Blues Brothers Jake and Elwood &8212; Kyle Murray and Jason Elliott of Vidalia &8212; drive around the cook-off grounds in a sedan painted to look like a squad car.