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More chefs needed for Feb. 1 chili cook-off

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For 15 years, teams such as Joe Hulbert and J. Peter Hludzenski from the Winemaker have turned chili into needed rides to medical appointments for local veterans and their families.

Mr. Hludzenski’s team, and four others — Stewart’s, Trinity Episcopal Church, Watertown American Legion Auxiliary Unit 61 and Jefferson Rehabilitation Center — all will be honored during the annual event Feb. 1 at the Dulles State Office Building, 317 Washington St., for their dedication in participating in the event since its inception 15 years ago.

But even though Mr. Hludzenski said he wouldn’t mind taking the People’s Choice honor again, he challenges other “chefs” to join him in having fun, making friends and helping to raise money for the Volunteer Transportation Center’s fund for veterans and their families.

“The more the better for the organization,” he said. “It’s because of the organization it sponsors — they do so much for people in this area. Many of our elderly or disabled need help.”

In 2012 alone, drivers volunteered more than 19,000 hours to make a total of 10,600 trips, which included 340,000 miles, according to Volunteer Transportation Center Executive Director Samuel M. Purington. Many of those trips are for veterans and their families, he said.

Mr. Purington said the chili cook-off helps cover mileage reimbursement the agency provides drivers for giving up their time to drive veterans and their family members to appointments.

“Lots of veterans go to places other than the VA,” he said. “There’s a lot of widows, veterans and family members who have non-service-related injuries and need to get to Samaritan.”

The Dulles State Office Building can accommodate up to 36 teams, and most spots are full at the event.

While some teams may take a year off here and there, there tend to be about five new teams each year, Mr. Purington said.

People don’t have to be with an organization or restaurant to enter, he said, as the center welcomes anyone to sign up for the contest. People also can be sponsored by area businesses to help cover the cost of their chili, Mr. Purington said.

KC Crego, captain of the Jefferson Rehabilitation Center team, said she would encourage other chefs/teams to join the fun-filled competition. For JRC, she said, it also promotes its services and “inclusion for our individuals.”

She said the group has tried several recipes in the past until it finds one it thinks is “different.” Camaraderie from other chefs and teams is also a part of the celebration, she said.

“There’s a lot of people, and you get to meet new teams, and can pick up ideas for the following year,” Miss Crego said. “You’ve got to go in with an open mind.”

She also encouraged people to offer a variety of chili toppings.

Interested chefs should call the Volunteer Transportation Center at 788-0422 to sign up. Mr. Purington said chili should be cooked in a state Department of Health-certified kitchen and chefs should bring a minimum of 10 gallons. Many teams make upwards of 20 gallons, which tends to be enough to feed most attendees.

Each team must pay an entry fee of $50 per booth.

For more information, visit www.volunteertransportation.org.

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