“Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” ~ Casablanca

I really need to watch that movie again. When I Google searched the term “hill of beans,” the quote came up and I vaguely remember the scene.

In the context of the movie, of course, the comparison was big. War was raging, and the love triangle between the three characters was of no significance in comparison.

My search was actually for clarity. It is a popular idiom I have heard throughout my life, and never really stopped to think about its meaning.

Interestingly, the source comes from a gardening guide back in the 1850’s. The instructions were for planting lima beans in an elevated, mounded manner.

The translation, though, has evolved from that practical sense into a figurative one. Beans are common, so they have little value. A large quantity of them, a hill, would similarly be worth less than other commodities.

Not to follow the Google bunny trail too far, but even the term “I’ve got bupkes” originates from this same theory. The Yiddish term for beans is “bupkes,” so in American English that term has been adapted to mean “nothing.”

On Saturday, we are going to prove this 200-year old theory wrong.

Whether you like your chili with beans or not, they will have true value to the community at the 11th Annual Chili Cook-off to benefit Harvey County United Way, 11:00 – 1:30, in downtown Newton.

Thanks to the firm foundation built by Founding Sponsors Ameriprise Ironstone Wealth Advisors and Prairie Harvest, the Chili Cook-off has grown into a popular signature event for the community.

When long-time event champion, Mike Petitjean, officially retired from his role this year, our board was at a crossroads.

Mike had given us fair warning. I believe his words were, “Ten years is a good number.” So, after ten years of recruiting open class booths, selling advance tickets, and donating his staff time and money to the event, he decided to hang it up. We owe him a debt of gratitude for what we inherited.

In those ten years, the event has grown to an average of 20-25 booths, an attendance of around 1,000 and annual proceeds of $10,000-$10,500.

Not too shabby for something that started with just a handful of booths and contained to one-half of a city block.

Crossroads mean re-evaluation, though, and when Mike passed the baton, the board decided to continue.

Fortunately, two board members stepped up to take on this next leg of the race. Rick Toews, First Bank, raised his hand and recruited Merresa Akers, Midland National Bank, to serve as co-chair.

The planning was off and running once again.

They formed a strong, diverse committee and developed some new offerings to bring in new audiences. The throw down challenge, a competition within the competition, was born out of this collaboration.

They strengthened the relationship with the Newton Convention and Visitors Bureau’s Red Hot Chili Pepper 5K and Little Pepper Fun Run, a complimentary event held earlier in the morning. All 5K runners get a ticket to the Chili Cook-off, which means families will attend too.

And, they opened themselves up to collaboration with the Aint’ No Joke Food Truck Rally, hosted by 701 Café and the Newton CVB. That event will be at dinnertime in the same location, and will help share some of the event costs.

As of this writing, organizers are finalizing a map for over 30 booths, a volunteer roster for over 40 people, and preparing cash and “golden spoon” awards for the winners.

Now back to the hill of beans, what difference does all this work mean for the community? What difference does it make if you show up on Saturday to purchase a tasting kit?

All event proceeds go to the annual campaign which buys:

$26/year - Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program for a young child (HCUW Literacy Initiative)

$30/teacher – classroom supplies for area educators (HCUW Classroom Wish List)

$35/month – a family finds permanent financial stability (Circle of Hope)

$68/month – preschool services for an at risk child (Community Playschool)

$100/month – an advocate to serve on behalf of an abused child (CASA)

$243/month – intensive in-home intervention services often eliminating the need for special education when the child enters school (Infant Toddler Program)

$422/person – offender education about the impact of a crime to decrease repeated offenses (Offender Victim Ministries)

$571/90 days – programming to increase financial independence, stability and hope (New Hope Shelter)

For the thousands of Harvey County residents impacted by our Literacy Initiative, support for local schools and grants to partner organizations, all the beans in those 248 gallons of chili add up to real value in their lives.

Join us on Saturday, and I guarantee you won’t leave saying, “I got bupkes.”

— Tina Payne is the director of Harvey County United Way. She can be reached harveyunitedway@gmail.com or 283-7101.