COVID forced a twist on the annual Chef Tim’s Take the Chill Off event presented by Redner's Markets, in its sixth year in support of the nonprofit Blankets of Hope.
On Saturday, customers could pick up their pre-ordered chili at nine Redner’s locations and several other retail locations as usual, but due to the community spread of COVID, this year the award-winning chili by Tim Twiford, executive chief and director of food services at Redner's, was distributed frozen and outside of the stores.
It didn't seem to matter how it was served, the customers came anyway.
Many Berks Countians have come to rely on their fix of Twiford's chili around the Super Bowl weekend and, thanks to promotion on social media and a local radio station, and support of numerous businesses and sponsors, chili was disappearing like Girls Scouts cookies.
In the vestibule of the Redner's store in Wyomissing, which was designated as one of the few points for walk-up purchases, volunteers reported steady customers.
"People have been coming here just to get the chili," said Chrissy Twiford, wife of the chef.
She, her friend Misty Witman and Witman's 8-year-old daughter Lorelai, sold quarts for $12 and smaller containers (equivalent to a large bowl) for $5.
Misty Witman is the culinary science instructor at Conrad Weiser School District, which for the two prior years prepared some of the chili for the event.
Some of her students asked to make the chili.
"It was a really good memory," she said.
Take the Chill Off raises money for blankets for shelters such as Hope Rescue Mission, Opportunity House, the YMCA transitional housing program and City Light Ministries, as well as programs such as Family Promise of Berks County that help people avoid homelessness.
For every $5 purchase, a blanket was ordered for someone in need.
One of their walk-up customers was Jacob Collazo, 16, Reading, who is a student at Berks Catholic. Collazo didn’t know if the chili would last until the big game Sunday.
Over at Classic Harley-Davidson, which held its spinoff event, Chatty & Chili Fest, at the dealership along Route 183 in Bern Township workers served up nine trays in about 90 minutes after opening. It was the only site serving heated chili.
One of the customers was Sylvia Cronrath of Laureldale. She said she heard about the event during the live broadcast Friday morning of WEEU radio's "Feedback" talk show from Classic Harley. She bought a couple of containers of chili and cornbread.
The festival at Classic Harley was held in conjunction with West Reading-based Chatty Monks Brewing Co., which served a few of its beers from a dispenser set up at the chili counter.
The logistics were different this year, Blankets of Hope founder Marc. J. Goldstein said, but it all works out in the end.
At other locations:
- Benchwarmers Coffee & Doughnuts, West Reading, was selling the chili with a doughnut as the bowl.
- Gov. Mifflin High school business students sold the chili from the Shillington Farmers Market, and Ridgewood Winery in Cumru Township sold the chili as its food offering during wine tastings, as was Reading Distilling Guild as a complement to its spirits.
- Mount Penn Sports Cards was even getting into the act, selling chili from its store in the Antietam Valley Shopping Center in St. Lawrence.
"Overall, sponsorship was down a little, as we expected," Golstein said. "I don't know if we'll meet what we did last year, which was a big year — we raised over $24,000 — but at the end of the day it doesn't matter.
"We've never been one to say it's all about the dollars that we bring in. It's about letting the people know what it's about and letting them decide whether to donate."
Goldstein, a small-business owner, founded Blankets of Hope in 2011 after reading in the Reading Eagle about pervasive poverty in Reading and being inspired when one of his customers bought a blanket as an employee holiday gift.