Ready for a challenge?

ESCANABA – Fans of soup, chili and charity will be happy and well fed next week as the United Way hosts its 19th Annual Soup’r Chili Challenge at the U.P. State Fairground’s Ruth Butler Building.

“The community loves this event … people get excited,” said United Way of Delta County Executive Director Julie Mallard.

Hungry visitors can sample soups and chili at the event from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday. Admission to the event is $20 for families, $10 for individuals 13 years of age and older, $5 for children between the ages of 6 and 12, and free for children 5 and under.

Each visitor will be served samples of soup and chili in small cups and will have the opportunity to vote for their favorites in each category for the coveted People’s Choice Soup and Chili awards. Despite the small size of the sampling cups, Mallard assures visitors will come away from the event feeling full.

“By the time you sample 15 or 20 soups and chilies, you’re full,” said Mallard. “Plus we have free pop from Bink’s (Coca-Cola) and we have free ice cream sandwiches from Elmer’s County Market.”

Returning this year to defend their titles are both People’s Choice winners from last year’s competition. Last year Terrace Bluff Golf Club took home the People’s Choice award for its seafood chowder in the soup division and Rick Micheau took home the People’s Choice award in the chili division for his white chicken chili.

“It’s definitely a favorite community event. I think that’s also evidenced by the fact that so many of the chefs come back year after year. The chefs have a good time,” said Mallard.

While the People’s Choice awards are represented by traveling trophies, a panel of judges composed of firefighters from the Brampton Volunteer Fire Department and the Ford River Fire & Rescue will select their favorite soup and chili in both restaurant and non-restaurant divisions.

Soup and chili are not the only things being judged during the Soup’r Chili Challenge. A People’s Choice Best Booth Award will also be awarded to the best decorated booth. The theme for this year’s event is “Story Time” and competitors are encouraged to decorate their booths to match the theme.

“This year the theme was kind of inspired to our giving a new grant to the Dolly Parton Imagination Library,” said Mallard, referencing the new program starting this fall which will provide children under the age of five with one book a month. “We thought because we’re really getting involved with education and literacy … it really ties into some of the work that we’ve been doing.”

Visitors to the Soup’r Chili Challenge will also be able to speak with members of United Way member agencies to see the ways the money donated to the United Way is used in the community.

“It’s a great way for people to find out about the services available to our community (and) to find out about where their United Way donations are going, because the whole idea is to kick off the United Way Campaign,” said Mallard. “I think sometimes that gets a little bit lost in the festivities.”

In addition to supporting United Way member agencies, visitors can support the Salvation Army food pantry by bringing a food donation for the pantry to the Soup’r Chili Challenge.

Registrations are still being taken for groups or individuals who would like to compete in the Soup’r Chili Challenge. For more information or to register as a competitor, visit the United Way of Delta County website at or call 786-3736.