34th Annual ChiliFest takes over Pullman Square

Breanna Francis, Reporter

Alex Runyon
Volunteers Lydia Waybright and Ben O’Dell served chili for the west end’s The Wild Ramp.

The 34th annual ChiliFest took place Saturday, blocking off Third Avenue in front of Pullman Square to make room for booths of chili, music and the raffling off of a Toyota Rav 4 donated by Advantage Toyota.

ChiliFest takes over downtown Huntington every fall to raise money for the local Ronald McDonald House from both chili sales as well as raffle ticket sales. Jaye Toler, director of development for the Ronald McDonald House, said that they had high hopes for donations to the Ronald McDonald House this year, especially from the Rav 4 giveaway.

“It’s my job to raise $650,000 a year so that we can operate, just to make the program work, and this is the biggest fundraiser that we have in the year,” Toler said. “We’ve already sold a ton of tickets for the Rav 4 in advanced, so we already started the day with $25,000, and that’s a record year for that. We couldn’t do it without all the people who made chili, serve chili, volunteer and participate by buying chili. This is a team effort in the truest sense.”

Toler went on to explain that her involvement wasn’t merely because of her position at the Ronald McDonald House, but her personal experience with the organization as well.

“When I was 11 and my brother was diagnosed with pediatric kidney cancer, he was treated at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where Ronald McDonald House started,” Toler said. “So, I’ve always been connected. I always donated, and I always came to all of the events. We’ve always been invested in the mission. And when this position came up, people actually brought it to me, but for me, it was full circle. I’m taking care of the siblings of really sick kids the same way they took care of me.”

Each ticket sold allowed for those in attendance to taste test chili from one of the vendors present, who in turn were able to raise money for the Ronald McDonald House charity as well as get their name in the drawing for the chili judging.

“This is our 8th year, and we keep coming back to raise money,” John Opperman, Coalminer’s Breakfast Chili vendor, said. “We’ve already raised about $20,000 this year for Ronald McDonald House, and we are looking to raise about $5,000 by the end of the year. It’s just a great way to get people together, raise money and have a good time

From the booths, to the volunteers, to those in attendance, ChiliFest’s 34th annual event raised about $73,366 that will go to the Ronald McDonald House and help the organization to continue it’s work in the Tri-State.

Sarah Boyd of Barboursville won the Rav 4 raffle.

Breanna Francis can be contacted at [email protected].