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Chili Fest growing into one hot event

“Come and get it. Chili’s ready.”

For a few thousand chili enthusiasts Saturday afternoon, that was all the encouragement they needed to flock to one of the 18 chili cook-off contestant tents surrounding Bennett’s Creek Park.

As part of the third annual Chili Fest, hosted by the Bennett’s Creek Sertoma Club, chili fans and those simply looking for a way to enjoy a comfortable spring day enjoyed sample-size servings of chili ranging from the mild to spicy.

“We are extremely pleased with the turnout we’ve seen today,” club president Greg Phillips said, looking over the large crowd. “We really focused on doing more marketing and getting more competitors to take part this year.”

The event, which the club started to be a spring fundraising event for their annual charitable works, has grown from eight chili teams and a few hundred guests, to the huge numbers seen this year.

“We really want to be able to make more money than we have in the past two years. And, by the looks of things so far today, there’s a good chance we will,” Phillips said.

Although the club has only 30 members, the event takes just over 100 to put on, which requires strong partnerships with other organizations and volunteers.

“We’ve partnered with the Sertoma in Suffolk, the all-women club in Suffolk, the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and more,” Phillips said. “This would not be possible without their help.”

The club’s core mission is to help improve the lives of children who are battling speech and hearing impairments. Last year, the local club used about $10,000 to buy hearing aids and other equipment to help local children perform better in school.

Additional support goes to the Reading Enriches All Children (REACH) programs in Suffolk.

This year, the event brought teams from all over the region, including one from Washington, D.C.

The Elvis-themed Burning Love Chili team brought together Mike Watkins from D.C. and Rob and Lisa Daughtery from Richmond.

“We have really been impressed with the layout of this event,” Watkins said. “This is really a nice event.”

The team presented two different types of chili, including one made from green chilies.

“All of our chili went so fast this afternoon,” Watkins said. “We’ve easily seen a few hundred people already and it’s only been two hours. We are having to scramble to make some more from the ingredients we had left over.”