On a sunny afternoon at the Santa Clara Elks Lodge, strange smells wafted from steaming pots that bubbled like those in an alchemist’s lab, but those tending the cauldrons were not mad scientists. Instead, the smells were an amalgamation of onions, peppers, meat, corn, and spices — they were the smells of chili.
The 13 booths promoting their chili did so as part of a fundraiser for local non-profit Justin’s House, which aims to keep at-risk youth from turning to alcohol. The second annual fundraiser, April 24, aimed to help fund a permanent location for the non-profit as well as a culinary life-skills day camp in July.
Those offering chili ranged from businesses to organizations such as the Santa Clara Firefighter’s Association to individual families.
Kiel Mariant, 27, with Forthright Oyster Bar, opening in May, said Justin Bell, for whom the organization is named, was a mentor to him as a chef, so he wanted to “give back” by being a part of the fundraiser.
“His memory lives on. It is definitely a big picture sort of thing.” he said. “There are not a lot of charities that support ideas bigger than ourselves.”
As dozens of children scurried about, wiggling inside hula hoops or bounding inside an inflatable bouncy house, “Won’t Get Fooled Again” by British rock group The Who played over the loudspeaker. Smoke billowed from the grill where volunteers cooked up hamburgers and hotdogs for those not filling up on chili.
Emily Aldrich, 28, studied culinary arts at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary arts and will be one of the instructors at the day camp. Aldrich has known founder Kelly Villarreal since she was 13, and she said she had no doubt she wanted to volunteer with the organization. She called Villereal a “pioneer.”
Seeing the kids absorb culinary knowledge like a sponge is so rewarding, Aldrich said. She believes cooking fosters a family atmosphere that helps youth resist the temptations of drinking.
“There is so much stimulation in the world. Finding something that intrigues them … it gives them an outlet,” she said.
Cat Yumul, 28, of San Jose, said she hopes Justin’s House will continually have events such as the chili cookoff. She said she came out to support Stand Up for Kids, a San Jose-based outreach organization to homeless youth.
Justin’s House focus of teen alcoholism plays a big role in homelessness, she said.
“There are a lot of homeless youth in this area,” Yumul said. “It is a problem that is getting worse.”