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Annual Chili Challenge is this Wednesday in Park Rapids

The 3rd annual Chili Challenge is March 7 in Park Rapids. (Enterprise File Photo)

An impressive line-up of chili bandidos have once again stepped up to the plate (bowl) to kidnap taste buds and confiscate coin for the third annual Chili Challenge, benefiting the Hubbard County Food Shelf.

The Chili Challenge, hosted by the Park Rapids Enterprise, will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday, March 7 at the Park Rapids American Legion.

The challenge is a kick-off for the March fundraising drive for the food shelf.

New and returning faces will be behind the steaming vats of delectable concoctions. (See the list of chefs and names of their wacky potions in this edition of the Enterprise.)

All are welcome to sample the chili at a dollar per dollop (small cupful) of chili. Ballot box "stuffing "is welcome and encouraged.

The chili chef/s earning top votes (dinero-wise) will gain celebrity status and a framed "People's Choice" award.

And new this year is the "People's Favorite" award. Votes for this award are not derived from the pocketbook but from the taste buds.

Every sampler will be given a ballot to choose the tastiest bowl of chili. The top vote getter receives a framed award to grace the kitchen - and bragging rights.

Fran Gack will once again provide toe-tappin' bean chompin' music.

A decadent, delectable array of chocolates will cap the event, created by Enterprise chocolatiers.

Food shelf volunteers will be on hand to assist with the culinary adventure.

All proceeds from the event will benefit the Hubbard County Food Shelf.

While the tone will be lighthearted, the mission holds gravity.

Food shelf coordinator Dave Long reports the amount spent for food distributed through the food shelf last year was up 71 percent from 2010. Total pounds distributed to needy families and individuals were up 45 percent. In 2011, the Hubbard County Food Shelf gave out 263.3 tons of food.

Individuals served by the food shelf were up by 48 percent; family numbers rose by 27 percent. "We're seeing larger families," Long said of blended and multi-generational families.

Twenty-eight percent of those served by the food shelf arrived from outside of Park Rapids itself in 2011. Residents arrived from Akeley (234), Nevis (214), Menahga (197), Laporte (195) and other area towns.

And while needs rose, food poundage from the USDA decreased.

But thanks to the area's generosity the food shelf is solvent; the last payment will be made on the new building on Pleasant Avenue in April.

Last summer, when the food shelf took part in a fundraising challenge via "Open Your Heart," area residents came through in grand style, making one of the largest proportional donations to the food shelf in the state.

March is the month to put fundraising into overdrive. Donations received by food shelfs in March are the basis for funding for the entire year through Minnesota FoodShare.

Become a conquistador of hunger!

To make a donation to the Hubbard County Food Shelf via the Chili Challenge, send checks made payable to the Hubbard County Food Shelf to the Park Rapids Enterprise, P.O. Box 111, Park Rapids, MN 56470. Checks may also be sent to the food shelf at 308 Pleasant Avenue.

Or arrive from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday, March 7 at the Legion to partake in the gourmet gala.