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Circle Of Friends Celebrates 14th Annual Chili Cook-Off

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Circle Of Friends Celebrates 14th Annual Chili Cook-Off

By James Coulter


Most great chili is made from beef. Marty Elrod’s award-winning dish is made from chicken instead. Such an original take on chili allowed him to win the prize for most original chili during the 14th Annual Chili Cook-Off hosted at Circle of Friends Ministry in Lake Wales on Saturday.

While he jokingly quipped that the secret behind his chili was too tight-lipped to share safely, he owes his success to his dish using chicken rather than beef, all prepared with the perfect blend of spices and seasoning, he explained.

“People are more apt to try something that is different than having the same old bland thing every time,” he said.

Elrod has been attending the annual chili contest for many years. He appreciates how the event helps raise proceeds for the Circle of Friends Ministry and its special needs students.

“I like helping,” he said. “I feel like I am doing something. “I wanted to help with the community. And this was a really good organization that helps out children.”

For the 14th consecutive year, Circle of Friends Ministry hosted their annual Chili-Cook Off on Saturday. More than a dozen chili recipes were entered and sampled for a chance to win three divisions: Most Original, Spiciest, and Overall.

Winning the Spiciest category were Lake Wales locals Skylar Smith and Rebecca Wood, and winning the Overall category was Melissa Walsh of the Cabinet Country.

Walsh owns Cabinet Country, with her business right down the road from Circle of Friends. As a close friend of the director, Crystal Higbee, Walsh was more than willing to participate for the sake of helping its special needs students.

“When she reached out about it, I was all too happy to enter,” she said. “I think it was really good, very well organized, and with the number of people that they entered, I think it was great.”

The award for Best Overall chili was $200 in cash, Most Original was $100 Visa gift card, and Spiciest was also a$100.00 Visa gift card.

Aside from the prizes for the chili competition, attendees and contest participants alike could enter a silent auction with baskets jam-packed with high-end products, tickets, and gift certificates donated by local businesses, as well as door prizes conferred every 30 minutes.

“Our special needs students will be performing for the first time to their newly-recorded theme song and introducing our new logo by wearing their new shirts for the performance,” wrote Crystal Higbee via Facebook.

Circle of Friends is a non-profit organization in Lake Wales that provides vocational training to special-needs students, providing them with valuable life and job skills to lead an independent life.

“The turnout is good for the way everyone has been doing with the pandemic,” Crystal said. “For the cause, that is the success for how we serve our special needs students and the community. It exceeded expectations.”

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