2022 Chili Cook Off: a "newbie" balances tradition and a "new normal"

As the newest member of the Agape long-term staff, I was admittedly at a bit nervous when asked to take a major role in planning this year's cook off event. Granted, my years of event planning, operational brain, and a sprinkle of my "type-A" personality gave me a leg up. It wasn't that I didn't know how to plan an event, it was the fear of the pressure of living up to previous, Pre-Covid, events.


I've been hearing about past Chili Cook Offs since being hired in September, and they were remembered by the staff, board, and community with such fondness. Looking at how we'd tackle this year's event, I knew right away it wouldn't be as big as the past. With the COVID-19 pandemic still lingering, and fears about gatherings still holding a grip on society, it made sense to go in with measured expectations. Conversations started happening around holding the event outside, and expecting a quarter, maybe half, of the regular attendees, and how would that affect the fundraising side of the event?


With the help and direction of Darin and our Board, we announced the event, sent out invites, and waited with fingers crossed. Almost right away, we felt relief. The local Church community dug into the idea, and time and time again I heard "We are so excited you're bringing this back!" There was more excitement from participating congregations about the idea of being outside, under the shade of canopies and trees in St. Andrew LC's beautiful court yard.


Despite never attending a cook off in the past, I was able to navigate what "used to happen" through Agape and participating congregations. From there, I looked at it through the lens of our "new normal", and found a plan of action that made sense operationally, made everyone feel safe about gathering, and ensured a smooth event.


We ended up with 10 congregations, each bringing chili, and a few of those bringing some delicious desserts! I was thrilled to see the logistics I was so nervous about start to come together.


The part of the even that is sticking with me though, is how many times I overheard something along the lines of "I'm so glad to see you again!", or "Isn't it nice to be doing this again?". I realized that this is the best part of the event. Yes, the fundraising is great, and of course the food is amazing, but the ability to gather with people you share a connection with is the real prize. Being able to come out of the last couple years, and feel safe enough to open up your bubble again and find human connection is more important than any trophy or prize.


I appreciate the faith the Board and staff at Agape had in me to lead this year's event, and I look forward to more opportunities to return to our new normal.


Author: Jerrica Ignacio, Agape Operations Manager