Laughter could be heard on Hinesville’s Court Street on Saturday as several hundred people gathered in the courtyard of First Presbyterian Christian Academy for food, fun and festivities at the school’s fifth annual chili cook-off.
But there also was a serious side to the event, Head of School Sammi Hester said. This year’s theme, “Family by C.H.O.I.C.E.,” focused on families and the community, she said.
“With that in mind, we wanted some aspect of the cook-off to give back to the community, so we decided to choose a philanthropy to raise money for during the event,” Hester said. “We know our community has really come together to support Brandon and his team, so we felt this was a great choice for the money to stay local.”
She was referring to Team Brandon, a group of community organizers raising funds to support cancer treatments for Brandon Hellgren, 7, who recently was diagnosed with leukemia. Hellgren is the son of Bradwell Institute teacher and baseball coach Rhett Hellgren and Frank Long Elementary School Principal Judy Hellgren.
The event featured a jail and bail station, which allowed attendees to put people in jail and bail them out for $5. It raised almost $400, according to Hester.
“All proceeds raised will help offset medical bills for Brandon,” she said.
Tina Burgess didn’t spend time behind bars, but she said she was captured by the event’s hearty offerings.
“The fall is the best time to get out and do things with the kids. Everybody seems to be happy here, and the chili is awesome,” she said.
Hester said the FPCA staff designed the fall festival so there would be something for everyone to enjoy.
“We had Games 2 U come and set up laser tag, the hamster ball and their gaming van,” she said. “Our art students, led by Jeanne Leonard, put on a beautiful sidewalk chalk art competition. They also had a student art gallery, where work was on sale to families, friends and community members.
“There was also a book fair being held inside for those wanting to purchase books or give our teachers items from their wish list. And there were prom and military ball gowns on sale for $5 and $10. All gowns were donated to FPCA by Colonial Bridal.”
Several churches, service providers and business leaders entered the chili cook-off contest. Each prepared to serve more than 600 people.
“We brought about six gallons of chili,” said Leah Poole, executive director of the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce.
Her team also brought lots of team spirit, according to Hester, and received the award for having the most spirited booth.
George Holtzman was back to defend his 2010 first-place title. His team, comprised of his staff and his wife, Babs, used his secret weapon, the Big Green Egg smoker provided by Liberty Propane, to warm the stomachs of patrons and heat up the competition.
“What really sets our chili apart is the real smoke flavor from the pecan woodchips,” Holtzman said.
Team Holtzman fired off against First Baptist Church for the first-place title, according to Hester. Both teams seemed to be smokin’, she said, but Holtzman took first place while the FBC team came in second.
“Third place went to Lienne Hill and her sweet vegetarian chili with pineapples,” Hester said. “Fourth place went to Steve Rearley with BRW Construction. Fifth place, by one vote, was our own Liberty County Chamber of Commerce.”
The Liberty County Sheriff’s Office, The Heritage Bank and 92.3 FM also competed in the cook-off.