Downtown Newton is adrift with a variety of food smells at various times of the day and year.
Some days, downtown smells like peppernuts, which are small Mennonite cookies steeped in spices; these delectable treats are created at Prairie Harvest.
Some nights, whether the air is baking in Kansas heat or snowflakes are softly falling to the ground, the fragrance of freshly baked doughnuts wafts through the air, courtesy of Druber?s Donut Shop.
But on one particular day in the fall each year, downtown Newton is overcome with the delicious bouquet of chili.
This aroma happens during the annual Chili Cook-Off.
?All proceeds go to (Harvey County) United Way for their general campaign,? said Mike Petitjean with Petitjean, Whit?field & Associates, a financial advisory practice of Ameri?prise Financial Services in Newton, which is one of the event sponsors. The other sponsor is Prairie Harvest Market and Deli in Newton.
In addition to raising money for Harvey County United Way, there?s another reason for this event, which can send even the largest of men home with a very full stomach.
?It?s an opportunity to bring all the United Way partners together at the same time and provide key partner people face-to-face (time) with the community,? said Carrie Van Sickle with Prairie Harvest. ?(It?s an) opportunity to put faces and organizations together.?
Last year, 25 participants made chili. Most groups or people don?t create the same chili year after year, said Tina Payne, Harvey County United Way director.
This year?s seventh annual event will be from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Sept. 29 at Sixth and Main streets in Newton. The 2012 event raised $9,500, and about 900 people attended.
Participants can make any kind of chili they want with the only requirements being they are asked to purchase at least three ingredients from Prairie Harvest, and the chili has to be hot. The chili can be spicy, non-spicy, made from game, vegetarian or with beans, to name a few of the variations.
Some groups have participated in the event since its inception. Once such group is the Newton Area Senior Center, which partnered with the Hesston Area Senior Center in 2011 and won the Pride of the Prairie award for the best-tasting chili, according to Kathy Schwarzenberger, Newton Area Senior Center director. The winning recipe was a Cincinnati kind steaming with cinnamon and nutmeg, as well as three types of beans.
?It had a bit of a kick to it, which made it appealing to most chili lovers,? Schwarzenberger said. ?We will definitely be participating again this year. We look forward to partnering with Hesston if they choose to.?
This year, they?re considering creating a Mexican-style chili.
?We have several Hispanic partners at the center who are great cooks,? Schwarzenberger said.
Other groups that have taken part in the event since the beginning include Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Harvey County, Community Playschool, Harvey County Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Task Force, Health Ministries, Mirror Inc., Newton Meals on Wheels, Offender/Victim Ministries and United Cerebral Palsy.
The Hesston and Newton senior centers participate in the event because they are Harvey County United Way partner organizations, receiving funding. Because this is a major fundraising event for United Way, the event gives the centers an opportunity to show support and be involved in the money-making effort, Schwarzenberger said.
The Newton senior center has used the same recipe for the past two years. Schwarzenberger said it?s her understanding that before that, several people would cook their own chili recipes, combining them all into one chili.
?I see the Chili Cook-Off as a great community event,? Schwarzenberger said. ?It is well attended and enjoyed by hundreds of people. It is gaining in popularity and is bringing in more funds every year. As a participating organization, we have lots of fun, and we get to interact with so many other organizations and people of all walks of life. We owe a deep debt of gratitude to Petitjean, Whitfeild & Associates and Prairie Harvest for their commitment to the event. They put in many hours of hard work and personal investment to make it very successful.?
Awards for chili cooking are presented in two classes: the United Way partners class and the open class. Each class has a judge?s choice award, called Pride of the Prairie, and a People?s Choice Award. A fifth award, Best Booth, also is given, as each booth is encouraged to have a theme.
The public participates by purchasing tickets for $5 in advance or $6 at the gate. With admission, they get a sample kit, so they can go around tasting all the chilis. At booths, they?ll get a small ladle of chili, Van Sickle said, and they can vote for the People?s Choice Award with dollars at each booth.
Advance tickets can be purchased through local organizations such as Kiwanis, Rotary and Lions clubs, and United Way board members and United Way agencies.
The event seems to be a hit with the public. For example, Van Sickle said at the event?s first year, a couple from Florida told her they were so impressed that when they returned to Florida, they planned start a chili cook-off to benefit United Way there.
The two people from Florida aren?t the only ones who see the fall event as a positive. Payne has seen the cook-off from two sides ? one when she was director of Health Ministries of Harvey County and now from the other side as local United Way director. When Payne was at Health Ministries, she said she saw it as a fundraiser. But last year, which was her first cook-off as director, she saw it as a true community event that had evolved from a fundraiser.
United Way partners and open-class participants this year include: Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Harvey County, CASA: A Voice for Children, Central Kansas American Red Cross, Circles of Hope, Community Playschool, Harvey County Community Partnership, Harvey County Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Task Force, Harvey County Infant Toddler Program, Health Ministries of Harvey County, Heart to Heart Child Advocacy Center, Hesston Area Senior Center, Mirror Inc., Newton Area Senior Center, Newton Community Childcare Center, Newton Meals on Wheels, Offender/Victim Ministries, RSVP of Harvey County, Salvation Army Red Shield Service Center, Sunshine Academy Learning Center, Trinity Heights Respite Care, United Cerebral Palsy of Kansas, Emporia State University, First Baptist Church, Newton Police Department, Project Search/Newton Medical Center, RB Media Group, Salem United Methodist Church and The Newton Kansan.
Entertainment will be provided by the Newton High School drumline, and Classic Country 92.3 FM is planning a live broadcast.
To see a video from the 2011 Chili Cook-Off, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X3ZcCHtIDoI. The video features fast, happy music with shots of people eating chili and comments from Van Sickle and others, as well as one man dipping a doughnut into chili, taking a bite and saying, ?Hey, that tastes like chili, don?t it (doughnut)??
Photos and story by?Wendy Nugent