Smith Mountain Lake’s 2016 Annual Chili Festival provided more than just fantastic chilies, fun  for the family, trophies and delightful vendors, it provided an opportunity to warm the soul. What do I mean by that?  Smith Mountain Lake’s Annual Chili Festival also provides the platform for organizations such as Trades of Hope and Bikers Against Child Abuse, both of whom focus on supporting the under-served and traumatized population. One of the first vendors to capture my attention was the Trades of Hope booth. The seller had simple and ornate jewelry beautifully laid out on her table. She was warm, friendly, and recalled each story that were attached to the jewelry. You see, Trades of Hope Jewelry are created by women in impoverished 3rd world countries and the USA, as their only source of income. Some women were acid victims who have been shunned by their community, some are victims of the sex trade, others are live in such impoverished state that they have historically resorted to eating “Clay cakes.” The founders and other who work for Trades of Hope buy the women’s jewelry at FULL ASKING PRICE, which allows the women to earn 4-6 times of what she would normally earn. The jewelry is then sold in the USA through local distributors – one of which, was present at SML’s Chili Festival. SML Chili Festival continues to provide as a platform to help undeserved individuals and communities.

In between the tastings, the smiles and laughter, another booth caught my attention. Inside the booth were leather jacket, bandanna wearing, bike riding, tattooed individuals, who exuded inclusiveness and openness. They had a BACA (Bikers Against Child Abuse) sign up, a bike, a teddy bear riding the bike and several individuals in the tent, two of whom I remembered serving pancakes, the other served Chili. We started talking and they shared that they were part of a National bikers group who work with local governing agencies to provide emotional support for abused children. He stated that their goal is to help abused children (who have an open case against them, some of whom are testifying in court), feel safer and to tell their whole story, without fear of punishment from their abuser. He pointed to the teddy bear riding the bike, who wore a denim vest with the words “You are part of the family now.” He said that they give those jackets to children whom they work with, with the goal of helping the child feel that they belong to a group of people who will keep them safe from their abusers. He reported that DSS workers and law enforcement refer families and children who may benefit from their support. They do not advocate violence, but will lay their lives on the line, if they were the only thing standing between a child and their abuser.

Congratulations to the following for placing in his year’s Chili cook off competition /Judge’s Choice. Roanoke Valley Community Credit Union (1st), Vitalize Church Chili (2nd) All nearby (3rd). People’s Choice were SML Power Boat Association. Showmanship were awarded to Mangoes for their creative theme, “Make our Chili Great Again” where they dressed up as the two presidential nominees. Smith Mountain Lake’s Chili Festival provides a venue for organizations to share how to empower under-served, impoverished women who are continuing to be empowered and children who may not have known about these organizations who will feel safer because their cause were shared during an Annual Chili Festival.

As a first time Chili Festival participant, I loved the creative ways that competitors present their chilies. One booth had a soda fountain, others gave their chili with a glass of lemonade, still others, with guacamole, hush puppies, pancakes and chips. Also, Moonshine Chili, anyone?