Church's annual chili cookoff brings town together in support of first responders

Mar. 19—MARKLEVILLE — Before asking a blessing on the food and fellowship at the annual chili cook-off hosted by North Christian Church, Pastor John Hackney noted that the main menu item was especially appropriate on a blustery evening.

"The weather outside may be frightful," he said, paraphrasing a popular Christmas carol, "but the chili inside is delightful."

The chili and the fellowship drew nearly 100 people to the gymnasium inside the church building Saturday. After organizers scooped portions into small plastic cups and placed them on large trays for judges to sample, people lined up to choose their own from among 19 different entries.

"As long as it's hearty, it's got some flavor to it, that's what we look for," said Ron Allen, the assistant chief for the Markleville Police Department who served as a cook-off judge. "Sometimes if it's really spicy it might throw the flavor off, so kind of that blend of a little bit of spice but with good flavor, that's kind of what we're looking for."

Those who paid $7 could eat as much chili as they wanted. All the proceeds were earmarked for the Markleville Police Department. That department and the town's fire department alternate as beneficiaries of the event.

"When we first started this, we wanted to help those two departments in some way," said Cindy Kennedy, a member of North Christian Church and one of the cook-off organizers.

"They actually were the ones that said, let's do (proceeds) every other year, because we don't want to get it every year. The community does come out, and they support both of those departments."

Hackney said the cook-off, which was canceled during the pandemic, offers his congregation and other residents of the town a reminder of the value of gathering around a table and sharing a meal.

"We have food, but it's about the fellowship," he said. "The fellowship is more important. We're here to love each other and support each other.

"When we stay in touch with each other, we find out things about each other's lives that we can help pray for one another, support each other and just stay connected."

Allen said the money his department receives from the cook-off this year will likely go toward new equipment and training opportunities for some of the department's 15 officers. But the gesture of goodwill from the town's residents, he said, is even more appreciated.

"It means a lot to us that they're backing us," Allen said. "Markleville has always supported the police department. I've been here about 15 years, and they've always supported us. It means a lot to us."

As for the question of who makes the best chili in town, Hackney offered his own opinion.

"It's all the cooks here at the church," he said with a laugh. "I say that carefully, because some of the guys cook good chili. We do love to eat.

"We have a lot of good food, good cooks, but it's all from hearts of love. It's a labor of love."

Follow Andy Knight on Twitter @Andrew_J_Knight, or call 765-640-4809.