Selma-Dallas County Leadership Class XVIII teams up with Blackbelt Benefit Group for Chili Cookoff

Published 10:47 pm Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The seventh annual Alabama River Chili Cookoff is just over a month away, and this year Selma-Dallas County Leadership Class XVIII is teaming up with the Blackbelt Benefit Group to put on the event.

The cookoff is scheduled for March 29 on Water Avenue. Admission is $5, and gates open to the public at 4 p.m.

Cook teams will set up on Water Avenue and compete against one another for the best chili. Instead of its usual location on the St. James side of the street, the cookoff will take place on opposite side with Charlie’s Place and ArtsRevive.

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This year’s cookoff will also be the final one organized by Class XVIII. Leslie Free, a member of the class and co-chairman of the cookoff, said they are handing down the event to the Blackbelt Benefit Group, which puts on several events throughout the year, such as Art Jam and the Rock N’ Ribs Benefit.

“It just became kind of hard for everybody to get together and to have meetings, and we did not want to see it not take place this year because it is just such a great event for the community and for the charities that are chosen,” Free said. “We just thought about them, and they agreed to take it on.”

Free said the class was sad to pass down the event, but feel like they picked the right group to keep the event going.

“When you devote this much time and energy into a project, you hate to give it up, and that’s why we chose to partner with them because we wanted to see it still do good for the community,” she said. “I think we chose the right group. They put on events like this … and they have a great team as well.”

Josh Wilkerson, president of the Blackbelt Benefit Group, said they are excited about carrying on the tradition and success of the chili cookoff.

“We were honored to be approached by leadership and that they would come to us and offer the partnership,” Wilkerson said.

“It’s just a great opportunity to continue something that’s been a proven success. We’re thrilled to have the opportunity … and we’re thrilled that we’ll be able to give back even more.”

Since its beginning seven years ago, the chili cookoff has given back $56,000 to local charities. This year’s cookoff will benefit the Bloom House, which advocates and serves children in the foster care system. It was founded last year and works closely with child welfare agencies, churches and members of the community.

“It’s an incredible organization that is getting going, and we all decided they’re a worthy and worthwhile beneficiary,” Wilkerson said.

This year’s title sponsor is Moore-Stewart Ford, who has sponsored the event for several years.

Registration for cook teams is currently open. According to the “Alabama River Chili Cookoff” Facebook page, teams interested in registering should email