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Chili Challenge raises $12,297 for food shelf

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Wyatt Tabitha-Hughes from CHI St. Joseph's Health serves his white chicken chili to Dawn Berglund at Wednesday's 2020 Chili Challenge. His concoction featured chicken thighs seasoned with cilantro, green peppers, scallions, cumin, garlic and a heavy cream. (Shannon Geisen/Enterprise)

With the help of 22 creative chili chefs and a generous community, the Park Rapids Enterprise’s Chili Challenge raised more than $12,000 for the Hubbard County Food Shelf.

The 11th annual event was held Wednesday at the American Legion. It’s the food shelf’s largest fundraiser each year.

March is Minnesota FoodShare Month, where the state allocates funds to food shelf organizations based on local efforts. It’s not a matching fund, but the state looks at how much is raised locally and allocations are based on a funding formula. Cash and food donations throughout the month boost the Hubbard County Food Shelf’s leverage for receiving additional funding.

Calvary Lutheran Church was the top fundraising entrant at a whopping $3,073.

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Calvary Lutheran's Hard Hat Ministry raised the most money at the event. Glenn Anderson and Dennis Aanenson wore their hard hats and joked that sawdust was their secret ingredient. Lorie Skarpness/Enterprise.

Citizens National Bank’s brew, “Coop to Scoop Chicken Chili Soup,” was voted the best-tasting chili. Their team has participated since the event’s beginning in 2009.

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Citizen's National Bank "Coop to Scoop" chicken chili was the most popular chili among taste testers. Sam Coborn was one of the chili servers and said the recipe came from vice president Kathy Henry. (Lorie Skarpness/Enterprise)

Hungry lunch goers had a wide variety of chili to sample, ranging from sweet and mild to hot and spicy.

“They were all delicious. It was a really tough decision,” said Susie Indrehus. It was her first time attending the Chili Challenge.

“Normally, we’re in Florida,” said husband Gary Indrehus.

Mark Andersen of ACTION Park Rapids said his chili was flavored with 13 powdered peppers from New Mexico.

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According to Carter Hedeen and Bruce Gravelin, their North Country Trail chili’s secret ingredient was shiitake mushrooms, while Team Industries served a pepperoni pizza chili.

Kathryn Schmidt went to the most work to get her chili made. “I shot a deer for this,” she said, as she scooped up venison chili.

Golden Eagle Log Homes had servers with the most interesting combination of names. Sandy Cook and Mary Best joked that with those last names they must have cooked the best chili.

The Hubbard County Coalition of Lake Associations, Sanford Park Rapids, Northview Bank, Park Rapids Community Education, CHI St. Joseph’s Health, Itasca Mantrap Electric Cooperative, Park Rapids Lions, Park Rapids Rotary, Beagle and Wolf Books, Enbridge, Northwoods Bank, Edward Jones and the Osage Sportsman’s Club and the Park Rapids American Legion Auxiliary were among the local businesses or organizations vying for the title of People’s Favorite.

Helping the food insecure

“This is literally just amazing,” said food shelf director Bob Hansen.

He told the crowd, “You are so important to us and our community. I just wanted to say ‘thank you.’”

Last year, Hansen said the food shelf served 1,081 households, down 5 percent from 2018.

Hansen said there is a misconception that the same clients return to the food shelf each month.

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In fact, the average number of visits per household is 4.31 times in one year.

Of the 15,136 household members served by the food shelf in 2019, 37.5 percent are 17 years old or younger, 56.1 percent are 18 to 64 years old and 6.4 percent are 65 and older.

The food shelf distributed 564,200 pounds of food last year, plus they shared 37,500 pounds of free produce in August and September 2019.

In January, Hansen visited with a rural Hubbard County resident who lives in a shack, subsisting on $200 of Social Security per month.

“She was so thankful and gracious for the food she received that day. She told us, with tears in her eyes, that due to the food she received she would be able to stretch it out so she could have two meals each day. She was almost in tears, and so was I,” Hansen recalled. “That’s why we’re doing what we’re doing.”

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Hubbard County Food Shelf Director Bob Hansen thanks the audience and chili chefs for their contributions. (Shannon Geisen/Enterprise)

He also shared a thank you card that read, “At one time, perhaps still, our trust beneficiary made use of your service when she would not have needed to. We are grateful that you kindly serve those who are food insecure, whether real or imagined.”

Four volunteers work at the food shelf every day, assisting clients, stocking shelves, picking up grocery store donations and helping with truck deliveries.

“It takes a lot of volunteers to keep things rolling,” Hansen said, “so we need more volunteers.”

Hansen, a former Hubbard County assessor, has been food shelf director for five years. “This has been my opportunity to give back to the community, and I feel really, really good about it,” he said.

A team effort

Every year volunteers help make the chili challenge go smoothly, including many from the Hubbard County Food Shelf. This is the second year that students from the Park Rapids School’s Alternative Learning Center helped.

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Alternative Learning Center students Megan Fuller and Isaih Bluthardt served up their sweet chili recipe. Several ALC students also volunteered to help at the event. (Lorie Skarpness/Enterprise)

Three of the youngest volunteers were the Mccloud sisters. Twins Grace and Evelyn are 11 and their sister, Olivia, is 9. They came with their Grandma, Gwyn Hammond. It was their first time helping with the Chili Challenge and the girls, who are homeschooled, said they did it because they wanted to help the food shelf where their grandma also volunteers.

“Evelyn won the coloring contest at Hugo’s and donated the $500 to the food shelf, too,” Hammond said.

Candy Parks, one of the founders of the event, said she appreciates everyone who helped with the set-up, serving, clean-up and everything else needed to make the Chili Challenge run smoothly, with special thanks to the Legion for their use of the space and other contributions.

Raffle ticket sales for a hand-carved loon by Bob Landrigan and a quilt donated by the Park Rapids Crazy Quilters also contributed to the final total, as did a silent auction of wooden-turned vases and bowls crafted by Dennis Ernst.

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