In the midst of a pandemic, and despite having to reinvent the proverbial wheel, Boys & Girls Clubs of St. Lucie County, (BGCSLC) raised over $100,000 at the first-ever Virtual Chili Cook-Off. The 1994 theme, in celebration of BGCSLC’s 25th Anniversary, was designed to be enjoyed from the comfort of your own home. The 90-minute show that aired on Facebook, YouTube, and Tacen TV Network on Roku brought with it all the usual antics that you would expect, along with special heartfelt messages. “This was truly a night to remember for us,” said Will Armstead, BGCSLC Chief Executive Officer. “We are all so grateful to a community that understands the importance of the work we do every day, to serve the kids that we call family.”
“You never know what you’re going to get when you build the plane while it is being flown,” said Jack Barrett, vice president of Resource Development. “Going from a live event with about 7,000 people in and out of a physical location to a virtual event being presented online and still exceeding our fundraising goals of over $100,000 shows how understanding our community is about the services we offer for the ClubKids.”
The evening began with a brief update and banter by Chili Board Chair, Assistant Port St. Lucie Police Chief, Rich Del Toro, and Will Armstead, Chief Executive Office of BGCSLC. They shared appreciation to the community for helping BGCSLC to pivot over the past several months, to continue the programs that change lives. From socially distanced summer camp at the MidFlorida Event Center to the newly designed workforce development program, they extended an overwhelming amount of gratitude. “It’s partnerships with people like Travis Leonard and Art Allen of A&G Concrete Pools, our Title Sponsor for Chili that affords us the ability to think outside the box,” said Armstead.
Boys and Girls Clubs is all about changing lives for the better, and that is just what happened when a once young, shy girl walked into BGCSLC for the first time. Amy De Los Santos, 2020 BGCSLC Youth of the Year bravely shared her story of depression with viewers. With her mom by her side, she told the world that her struggles were overcome with a positive mindset, a hobby she found solace in, and the support, guidance, and love she received from Boys and Girls Clubs of St. Lucie County. “Amy has been an inspiration to us all.” stated Melanie Wiles, Chief Operating Officer for BGCSLC. “At such a young age, to identify and overcome depression, and then have the desire to pay it forward is a true testament to the resilience we all have inside of us. It’s a testament to our programs.”
Of course, the Chili Cook-Off is not official without the antics. St. Lucie County Administrator, Howard Tipton shaved his signature mustache as a fundraiser. Tom Moran, a four-time past winner of the speed-eating chili contest, challenged viewers to join in the fun by encouraging viewers to shovel 10 ounces of chili into their mouths in 20 seconds. Last year’s Best Chili winners, Dr. Ravi Jitta and his wife Dr. Roshni Patel gave a virtual cooking lesson, themed out as the Magic School Bus. Chili teams such as St. Lucie County, the St. Lucie Mets, Signature Property Management, A& G Concrete Pools, CenterState Bank, and Keiser University, all donned their 1994 themes and showed up to the party in true Chili spirit.
The virtual event was not without the annual sought-after awards. The ‘Top Team Fundraising’ was awarded to St. Lucie County’s Solid Waste Authority with a record-breaking $24,000 collected through some ingenious fundraising activities. The ‘Leader Award’ recognizes Tami McHale of St. Lucie Draft House and the ‘Rookie Award’ for first-time participants recognizes Signature Property Management who used the 1994 theme to look back on the ill-fated strike season of Major League Baseball.
“We were surrounded and supported by phenomenal community leaders, who were happy to share encouraging words and support,” said Armstead. Congressman Brian Mast, Senator Gayle Harrell, Representative Delores Hogan-Johnson, Commissioners Linda Bartz, and Sean Mitchell all expressed their support during the broadcast of the programs BGCSLC provides, the positive impact on the community and the importance of pressing forward, even during difficult times. A final special appearance was made by Albert Wilson of the Miami Dolphins. Wilson too congratulated BGCSLC for their grit and determination to serve the children of St. Lucie County.
“Now more than ever, because of COVID, the funds raised are all funneled to making a difference and providing opportunities for youth and teens in St. Lucie County that would not be available to them otherwise,” said Leslie Kristof, BGCSLC Board Chair and President of Keiser University’s Port St. Lucie campus.
If you missed the 2020 Chili Cook-Off, no problem. That’s the beauty of going virtual. Visit https://bgcofslc.org, and click the link. Donations are still being accepted and very much appreciated.