Chilin’ at the cook-off

By on February 21, 2018

Lots of folks say such-and-such an event is something they wouldn’t miss, using the phrase as a figure of speech.

Loosely translated, the expression sometimes means they’d like to go — unless something better comes up.

But when Lititz residents Scott and Becca Graham call the Lititz Fire & Ice Festival’s Chili Cook-Off on Saturday an event they wouldn’t miss, they mean exactly that.

The Grahams originally slated their daughter Evie’s third birthday party for Saturday, but bumped it to Sunday once they realized it conflicted with the Chili Cook-Off.

It was the couple’s second calendar adjustment to accommodate the cook-off.

Earlier, they had rescheduled a trip to take their daughter Zoe to Philadelphia to play the interactive Marvel Experience — a gift for her 14th birthday. They switched that outing from Saturday to Friday.

“We would have missed (the Chili Cook-Off) and we weren’t going to do that,” said Becca Graham, controller of the Lititz Car Co. “It’s a good time.”

It’s nice to get out of the house in the middle of winter and see friends and neighbors, and sample good food, she explained.

Scott Graham, an architect at Muhlenberg Greene in Wyomissing, noted that the community event is the kind of activity that’s held in Lititz on a regular basis.

“It’s home-town Americana,” Becca Graham added. “We live in Norman Rockwell-ville.”

This year’s Chili Cook-Off, which represents the “fire” in the 13th annual Fire & Ice Festival this weekend, drew a sellout crowd of 1,500 people to the Warwick High School cafeteria.

There they sampled chili made by 14 local organizations and businesses, each accepting donations to a particular charity.

At the same time, the high school was the scene of a small business fair with 40 vendors and a carnival of games and other activities for children — also parts of the festival.

The activities — organized by the Lititz Lions Club, a community service group — were staffed in part by the Warwick girl’s lacrosse and softball teams, the club’s Leo (youth) members and the high school’s Interact service club.

In total, Saturday’s three activities at the high school drew an estimated 3,000 people, organizers said.

Meanwhile, dozens of ice sculptures that were unveiled Friday in downtown Lititz also drew thousands of people Saturday. The carvings were presented by Venture Lititz, a group that works to strengthen and sustain the borough’s social and commercial fabric. Those ice sculptures will remain on display through Monday.

Proceeds from the festival help fund Venture Lititz’s and the Lititz Lions Club’s programming.

Customers at the Chili Cook-Off told LNP they were attracted to the event by the food as well as the hospitality.

“We’ve done it before (in 2016) and we really enjoyed ourselves,” said Sobrina Pickle, a software engineer from Exton. She was there with her husband Ernie, retired from the pharmaceutical industry.

The Pickles said they’ve vacationed in Lititz four or five times in recent years; they’re smitten by its small-town charm and vibrant sense of community.

Ditto for Lititz resident Georgine Spengler and her sister Theresa Gelvin of Shillington.

“There’s not any hustling or bustling,” said Gelvin. “Everybody’s friendly, even in line” at the cook-off.

Mike Gamble and his fiancee, Christina Dowden, are Lititz residents who are drawn to the event’s “block party” atmosphere, as Gamble put it. They attend “every year we can,” he said.

The chili chefs also had multiple motives for participating — mostly exposure for their business and support for their chosen charities, some of them with ties to company employees.

For instance, Barry Fair, owner of Brewster’s Bar B Que, was raising money for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. His granddaughter has the genetic lung disease.

The Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre was raising money and awareness for the Dravet Syndrome Foundation. An employee’s grandson has the type of epilepsy.

The Lititz Lions Club gave each of the 14 charities $100 apiece.

The club gave The Tommy Foundation, an autism awareness and training group, another $200 because the chili made by its sponsor, the Gilbertson family, won the cook-off’s People’s Choice contest.

Another $200 went to the Lititz United Methodist Church, because its chosen cause, an upcoming mission trip to Appalachia by the church’s youth, raised the most money, nearly $900.

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