Bell Street Block Party: Neighbors gather to feast on chili for good cause

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    Residents of Bell Street raised more than $700 for Washington Kids in Transition during a recent block party — and the group is now challenging other neighborhoods to do the same.

    Washington Kids in Transition is a local charity that supports homeless K-12 students in the Edmonds School District.

    Replacing the tried and true potluck-style event, this year’s party featured a chili contest organized by neighborhood residents Shari Watkins, Kathleen Griffin and Beckie Peterson. “Seven eager neighborhood contestants served tastes of their chili creations,” Peterson said. Neighbors voted for their favorite chili with money – by dropping coins, dollars and checks into each contestant’s donation jar.

    And according to Peterson, these chili cooks really came to compete. Patricia Andrews brought a smoky chorizo, mushroom and lentil concoction. Cherisse Berni offered a creative riff of chili with tasty Sloppy Joe sliders. Geoff Torgerson had the firecracker —  the spiciest chili of the day. Wendy Carpenter’s traditional chili was seasoned to perfection. Eric Peterson’s oversized red pot of chili had beef, pork, tequila — and beans on the side. With a surprise ingredient of pumpkin, Laura Meyer’s vegetarian chili was a favorite.  And the most-interesting-ingredients-in-chili award went to Matt Livesey’s pot with short ribs, marmite and anchovy.

    In the end, Eric Peterson was crowned the Bell Street Chili Champion, and Washington Kids in Transition came out the real winner, with donations totaling $722.20.

    “This was a great idea,” said Michael Watkins, who performed much of the heavy lifting for set-up and clean-up, as the event happened right in front of his house.

    This marked the 8th year that the Bell Street neighbors have gathered. It all started in 2010, when Mark and Laura Meyers put fliers in mailboxes of neighbors, inviting them to a barbecue.  The Meyers were about to begin a home remodel project that would temporarily impact a shared alleyway; they hoped to meet neighbors and personally explain the project timeline. A dozen neighbors gathered around a gas grill, enjoying hot dogs and a bucket of iced beers. “We should do this again next year!” was the common refrain.

    And so they did, and have repeated it every year. The date has moved around a bit, lately settling on the weekend after Labor Day. Each year the party has increased in size (about 90 were expected this year) and now includes families from Bell, Main and Edmonds Streets between 6th to 9th Avenues.

    Despite the increased scale, the party has gotten somewhat easier to organize as it builds on itself. Neighbors bring folding tables and chairs, canopies appear, someone started ordering a bounce house to entertain the kids while parents visit, and a neighbor’s music sound system has added ambiance, clearly- heard announcements and spontaneous dancing.

    And while the neighbors were partying together, a network was evolving. An offer to loan a ladder. A babysitter for a young family who just moved in. A name to go with the familiar lady walking her dog.

    “This block party has fostered many neighborly introductions and interactions, and has inspired a shared Facebook page and a disaster-planning committee,” Beckie Peterson said.  This year, the idea to have a chili cook-off expanded to include a fundraiser for the local Edmonds charity.

    The Bell Street neighbors encourage others in Edmonds to get a block party started in their neighborhood. “It is a bit of work, but it is very important for our neighborhood and for our community-building”, added Peterson. “We live among some dynamic, interesting, creative, talented people.  It is fun to connect and share our afternoon with those we are lucky to call neighbors.”

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