The aromas of chili and chowder wafted through St. Mary's United Church of Christ the afternoon of Sunday, Nov. 13 as 16 businesses and community members competed during Charles Carroll Recreation Council's inaugural Chili and Chowder Cookoff.

"Community awareness and community programs are important for Silver Run-Union Mills and the surrounding community," said Tara Battaglia, Charles Carroll Rec Council's community events coordinator. "We may not have our small community school, but the Rec Council can offer a place and activities for families. I'm happy to see the community come together."

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In December, the Carroll Board of Education voted 4-1 to approve Superintendent Stephen Guthrie's recommendation to close North Carroll High, New Windsor Middle and Charles Carroll Elementary schools at the end of the 2015-16 school year. Carroll school officials have said the decision was the result of declining enrollment systemwide and that the closures would save more than $5 million a year.

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Battaglia said that with the closing of Charles Carroll Elementary, children were split between three different schools and the Charles Carroll Rec Council provides families with a community center and free activities.

"The Rec Council is not just about sports, but also about reconnecting the community and offering events for families such as ice cream socials, family fun dances, and Trunk or Treat," Battaglia said.

Charles Carroll Rec Council President Jason Sidock explained the Chili and Chowder Cookoff was a way for community members to "come out and see their neighbors."

"Community is about more than a school," Sidock said. "We've got our churches, our businesses, and our families. We offer many free activities for kids and adults so you don't have to go to Westminster."

Sidock said the cookoff was a way to raise some money to help pay for the free events but some of the proceeds would be dedicated to the Md. 97 Street Light Fund.

"St Mary's UCC has been paying several thousand dollars a year to keep these lights on," Sidock said. "We wanted to raise some money to help them and to raise awareness."

The church's lay leader Bob Finn, of Union Mills, said the lights used to be a community endeavor before it was passed onto St. Mary's UCC.

"[Baltimore Gas and Electric] bills us and we pay the bills," Finn said.

St. Mary's UCC pastor Eric Marsteller said the church spends nearly $3,000 a year to keep the community's lights on.

"It's for safety, ambience, and for a community feel," Marsteller said. "We want to know they're passing through a community and for community members to say, 'I like living here.'"

Community members like Amber Ashe, of Silver Run, came to the cookoff to support the Rec Council. She said she has two children, ages 16 and 10, who participate in the organization's activities.

Morgan Hewitt, 15, of Silver Run, accepts an award from Pastor Eric Marsteller for Bud's at Silver Run's entry at the Charles Carroll Recreation Council's first chili & chowder cook-off in the basement of St. Mary's United Church of Christ in Silver Run on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016.
Morgan Hewitt, 15, of Silver Run, accepts an award from Pastor Eric Marsteller for Bud's at Silver Run's entry at the Charles Carroll Recreation Council's first chili & chowder cook-off in the basement of St. Mary's United Church of Christ in Silver Run on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016. (Alan White / Carroll County Times)

"Since they closed the school, it keeps the community united as one," Ashe said. "It brings people we're used to seeing at school together. It helps keep our relationships and our children's friendships going."

Ashe's daughter Savannah Price, 10, said events like this help "people get to know each other."

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"They're important to bring the community together," Savannah said.

Baseball program coordinator Jennifer Gawel, of Westminster, spent her birthday at the cookoff.

"It's a way to support the local businesses that are here," Gawel said.

Carroll County Sheriff Jim DeWees, who lives in the Silver Run community, was in attendance to judge the contest.

"I love chili and chowder. Why not come over and taste it?" DeWees said. "Every one was really good and it was hard to judge which was the best. It's a good time for a good cause."

Ronnie Reese, of Westminster, cooked both chili and chowder for the event. He has participated in several cookoffs and won the Best Individual Chili and Best Individual Chowder awards.

"I cook to relieve stress. I stick to one recipe," Reese said. "Everybody likes my seafood chowder."

Judges awarded Mollie's Café with Best Overall Specialty Chili. Bud's at Silver Run won the People's Choice award and awards for Overall Spiciest and Best Professional Chowder. Texas Roadhouse won awards for Best Professional Chili and Overall Flavor.

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