ELYRIA — Oberlin police relinquished the crown to Sworn Justice Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club at Saturday’s annual Lorain County Blue Foundation Pete Soto Chili Cook-Off.
In its ninth year, the cook-off started as a fundraiser for Soto, a now-retired Avon officer who was injured in a traffic crash in October 2010. Coming together at the local Knights of Columbus in Avon, officers, including Chris Barton, organized the event to help Soto’s family pay for expenses and mounting medical bills. It raised more than $15,000 in its first year and has continued ever since, outgrowing its original location and now routinely selling out the Stocker Center at Lorain County Community College months in advance.
For Soto, the event is “humbling.”
“This event means everything to me because it started because of me and it’s evolved because of Chris and some of the other guys. … It evolved into this, which is something that we give back to the community.”
He added later, “It means a lot that people still want to come. It means a lot that people get mad because they can’t get tickets and everybody’s fighting for tickets, and it means a lot that these people would take time to come out here and cook.”
Representatives from 25 agencies manned lines of slow cookers, dishing concocted recipes to hungry law enforcement and their supporters.
In addition to helping officers and their families when the unthinkable happens, the foundation has provided equipment like body armor and first aid kits containing tourniquets and other emergency items.
“Tonight puts us over $100,000 of equipment we’ve put back in the county,” Barton said. “It didn’t start out to be that, but we had such great success fundraising and support from the community, the officers, the agencies.”
This year’s winners received armor, ballistic shields, helmets and first aid kits — on top of their bragging rights — things some smaller departments may not be able to purchase on their own, he said. Barton said the kits are used on officers, and about 10 to 15 times a year on the general public.
“Guys will call me all the times saying, ‘I used that tourniquet and I used the training you guys taught us to help in this crisis,’” Barton said. “So Lorain County Blue started out being just for Pete, and it just became something for the whole county — it’s just awesome.”
Sheffield police Sgt. Ryan Sayers said his department wouldn’t have some of its tactical gear without Lorain County Blue.
“Personally, the equipment that we’ve gotten from these chili cook-offs, from placing we have used several times in our department,” Sayers said. “And I work for a small department and we can’t afford that stuff, so it’s awesome that we’re able to get that kind of stuff from this.”
A friendly competition between agencies, this year’s top five departments were Sworn Justice LEMC, Avon police, Cleveland FBI, Wellington police and Vermilion police. At the bottom — with only five votes — was Cleveland Casino Control. After expenses the event raised $29,000 and donated $22,000 in gear, Barton said.
“It’s a night to get together for all the officers, the people in the community, to come together and just have a good time,” he said. “This is what we are, this is what we do. We’re Lorain County Blue, this is what we want to represent the public and when people ask what we do, come and see the event.”
For more information on the Lorain County Blue Foundation, visit its Facebook page.
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