COLONIE — For six years iCARE has hosted a Chili Cook-Off to have some fun, have some chili and raise money for a good cause or causes — this year the beneficiaries were Northern Rivers and the family of injured Albany County Sheriff Department Sgt. Joseph Iachetta.
Like every other aspect of life as we know it, the seventh annual had to be modified a bit. Rather than put off the cook off until next year, when the pandemic will, by the grace of God and the work of science, be just a memory, iCARE opted to hold it drive through style with a large sign on Sand Creek Road dubbing it the Chili Cook-Out.
And all those involved pulled it off with smashing success.
“We are really doing well. People are running out of chili and that is what we hoped for,” said Gabbie Lupe, co-president of iCARE and one of the organizers this year, about two hours into the noon to 4 p.m. event. “People are coming out, and we are donating a lot, and it is a good sense of community and that is what we need right now.”
The event is typically held at the Village of Colonie Rec Center, but since indoor gatherings of any size are still off limits, it was moved to Raider Boulevard, where the chili chefs — school clubs, law enforcement departments and fire departments — served up their respective specialties.
“It’s a little cold. But it works. We have our gloves on and our hats on and we are ready to go. We were ready to adjust and change for this, for sure,” Lupe said. “We are just trying to give back to the community in any way we can.”
iCARE picks a charity or charities to work for each year and in 2021 they opted to again support Northern Rivers, a multi-faceted organization that helps families deal with a wide spectrum of issues — from mental health to foster care to special education across 32 counties in New York state. Northern Rivers was the beneficiary of iCARE in 2020 too, but Lupe said the organization’s work with those suffering with mental health issues is what is needed now so that is where iCARE put its focus.
“People are struggling with mental health now and that is why we took them on again this year,” said the Colonie High senior who is headed to St. Rose to study elementary education and join the swim team. “We really felt like we needed to put an emphasis on that right now.”
Stephanie Douglas, the director of development for Northern Rivers, called the event and the students who organized and worked it “amazing.”
“They had the Chili Cook Off in person last year and it is amazing to see how they pivoted to make it a drive through so the community could still get together and learn about what we do at Northern Rivers while raising funds. It is just amazing,” she said.
A separate donation table was set up to help out the family of Sgt. Iachetta, and Sheriff Craig Apple used a similar adjective to describe ICARE’s efforts and that of the entire community.
“The outpouring of support from the community has been overwhelming. People have been coming to check on us and are sending food to his house and helping his wife,” said Apple who has been a Chili Cook-Off judge for six years. “We are truly blessed to have a great community.”
On Feb. 8, Iachetta was travelling eastbound on Central Avenue when his SUV collided with an tractor trailer. He was extricated from the vehicle, suffered serious injuries and is currently in rehab. He has a young child at home and his wife is expecting their second.
Apple said he is doing remarkably well, all things considered. The most recent good news is he pushed a button to call a nurse when he needed assistance, he stood up on his own and he was attempting to smile and joke around a bit.
“We are not certain what his functionality will be like in a couple days but we are very hopeful that in six months, or three months even, he will be up and moving and back to work,” Apple said. “Joe is a strong kid. If anyone can get through this, he can.”
At the center of all that good stuff, there was a chili cook-off going on, a fact that is often overlooked. Out of the 10 contestants and Midway Fire Department won the Judge’s Award, dethroning the champs from 2019 and 2020, the West Albany Fire Department. With the exception of 2017, when the Village of Colonie Senior Center slipped in a win, a town fire department has taken home the prize.
“We think it is great. The students are looking to get more involved with the community and the community wants to be involved with them,” said Capt. Todd Lawson, of the Midway Fire Department.
iCARE is a character building program at Colonie High School that uses five core values to shape decision making: Integrity, Community, Accountability, Respect and Empathy. It’s mission includes giving students the power to combat “harassment, poor decision-making and by-stander syndrome while encouraging strong leadership, positive interaction and championing causes or people that are in need of support.”
“iCARE and our student leaders did a phenomenal job, not only supporting the deputy sheriff who was injured but Northern Rivers.” said South Colonie School District Superintendent Dr. David Perry. “The students are not only adaptable and creative but this is a sense of normalcy in a challenging year. It put some smiles on peoples’ faces and we had some good chili and a little competition and some fun. It was great to see everyone and we are thankful our student leaders and our staff was able to pull this off.”
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