Over fifteen hundred supporters of the Muscular Dystrophy Association of San Diego, chili lovers, and firefighters from around the county gathered at the Embarcadero Marina Park South on Saturday June 11th to raise funds for the MDA.
For the 31st year in a row, the Padres Tailgate and Firefighters Chili Cook-off Benefit put the ‘best chili in San Diego’ laurels up for grabs, and the competition was hot. Pun intended! In themed booths decorated like frontier towns, bowling alleys, tiki bars, and putting greens, large cauldrons of fiery – and not so fiery, in some cases – chili were dispensed to all comers. Fire departments, including Vista, Camp Pendleton, Oceanside, Carlsbad, and Rancho Santa Fe, entertained and fed the crowd with their best, tested and most competitive chili recipes. The chili styles ranged from subtle to nuclear. One voter was partial to the shredded chicken and veggie chili ladled up by the first booth inside the gates. Another could only gasp that her mouth was ‘en fuego’ and beg the Camp Pendleton crew for some soothing tortilla chips. Other recipes went straight for the sinuses, while others used beans, spices and tomato chunks in careful combinations. In every booth, firefighters/chefs were actively soliciting votes and campaigning for the crown.
And beyond the chili booths’ gauntlet, the grateful crowd found a tent full of Monster drinks, all blissfully ice cold; grills turning out burgers, hot dogs and bratwursts that were delightfully not spicy; coolers full of water, and rows of picnic tables under shade trees. Whether at a table, sitting on the grass, or on a bench along the path, there was a lovely view of Coronado Bay and the Coronado Bay Bridge, and even a glimpse of the Team USA 11 sailboat tacking back and forth in the breeze. The park behind the Convention Center was filled with families, couples, and chili aficionados of all ages looking for a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon in San Diego. And they found it! Not everyone was there for the chili. “I’m working with security, watching the microbrew sampling area,” said Ability Center’s Keith Miller. Ability Center committed to greater freedom through accessibility in San Diego and beyond, is a longtime and fervent supporter of MDA. “At Ability Center, we’ve supported this event for many years, and this is my third year to volunteer, helping event security by managing the ‘beer distribution area’. This is a great family event,” he said, looking around at the flotilla of strollers parked in the shade, ”and it raises money for MDA, too. I’m having a great time.”
Why does Ability Center support MDA San Diego? “Well, MD affects many of our clients, so it’s on our radar. But as a charity, MDA San Diego rates very high, being a well-run organization. Almost 80 cents of every dollar they raise goes to helping individuals and families with MD, not overhead, and they keep all of that in San Diego and Imperial Counties, impacting the people right here in this park; people they know and love. That’s really important, and a sign of a quality organization. And they don’t get any money from the government – they raise funds from businesses like Ability Center, individual donors, and certain foundations. It’s important to us at Ability Center to make sure that we support organizations that serve our customers – those using wheelchairs, handicap-accessible vehicles, and mobility products.”
The MDA, and the children and adults who rely on its programs, benefited tremendously from Saturday’s turnout. But the day’s real winners were the people in the park, who sampled chili, free burgers and dogs, and mellow reggae music under a gorgeous blue San Diego sky, complete with a bay breeze to cool their chili-fevered brows.