Smelling the chili in the air, the homeless along Fallsway in Baltimore quickly queued up.
Beyond 10 steaming aluminum trays of chili, volunteers loaded tables on the sidewalk with a bounty of cornbread, bagels, hot dogs, snack bags and other food for hundreds of people who stopped by the “Chili Bowl Sunday” this weekend. Attendees also were offered toiletries, clothes and medical services.
The chili was meaty, hot and a little spicy, just the way Keith Alexander likes it — although “not as spicy as I used to like,” he said. “I’m getting older.”
The 54-year-old has been struggling to reclaim his house in Cedonia, on the northeast side of the city, since last summer. Sunday’s hot meal, provided by Inge Benevolent Ministries, put a smile on his face and God’s praise on his lips.
“God is so good,” Alexander said. “The simple things mean a lot. This is what life is supposed to be about. … To God be the glory.”
The food giveaway began in Atlanta about 25 years ago as a way for Asma Hanif to encourage her children to spend part of Super Bowl Sunday volunteering, she said.
It subsequently moved with them to Baltimore and expanded, said Hanif, executive director of Inge Benevolent Ministries, a shelter and center for victims of domestic violence in Northwest Baltimore.
“I thought [watching the game] was a colossal use of time,” Hanif said. “I wanted my children to go out and do something, and you can’t really mess up chili,” Hanif said.
While many people brought their own food donations, the event is a family affair for Hanif.
Her ministry is named after her father, J.T. Inge, who was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal for serving as one of the first black Marines in the 1940s. Her daughter, Aliyah Inge-Hanif Wilson, 25, has participated in the chili giveaway since she was a child and has helped organize it since she was old enough.
“As a human, this is just what you’re supposed to do,” Wilson said. “We’re here in the community. We have to be part of the community.”
City Councilman Kristerfer Burnett and his mother, Elraine Burnett, were on chili duty in their fourth year participating in the event.
“We’re here making sure people get a good meal,” the councilman said, ladling it into Styrofoam bowls for those in line. “It’s what Baltimore’s all about.”
Akeda Pearson, a board member of Inge Benevolent Ministries, pointed out the volunteers enjoying the food with those they were serving.
“They eat chili, we eat chili,” she said. “We break bread together. Just because people are not experiencing their best life today doesn’t mean they don’t have someone to care for them.”
“This is a form of worship,” Pearson added. “No walls — we’re ministering to people.”
Aboard a pair of shuttle buses at the curb, Amerigroup offered free blood-pressure and HIV screenings, as well as winter clothing and other items.
“When you bring the services to them, you see a better turnout,” said Nykol Mariano, an Amerigroup community relations representative. “It’s a one-stop-shop for food, clothing and heath screenings.”
Stewart Jones, 56, was homeless until getting an apartment on Maryland Avenue a few months ago. He followed his nose from St. Vincent de Paul Church nearby and rolled his wheelchair to the chili giveaway, near the corner of Fallsway and Centre Street.
Jones had a mix of two kinds of chili in his bowl. His review was nothing short of five stars.
“It tastes like it should be in Atlanta at the Super Bowl,” he said. “This is football chili. It really is.”