A collage of photos from Marymount Chili Cook-off.

A collage of photos from Marymount Chili Cook-off. (Courtesy photo)

When students at Marymount learned they would be unable to host their seventh annual chili cook-off for charity due to COVID-19 school closures, a group of 6th-graders in their service learning class found a creative way to summon that same community spirit online.

“Service learning is all about helping the others in need in our resilient community, and with this sudden change in our lives we had to adapt, and act quickly,” said Nuria Causera who teaches service learning and Spanish at Marymount.

Every year since 2012, Marymount students in the 6th-grade service learning class choose a local nonprofit group for which they raise money throughout the year. Students set up lemonade stands, hold bake sales and other events to raise awareness about their cause.

The fundraising culminates in a Chili Cook-off, which the students plan and execute themselves under Causera’s guidance. Attendees pay $10 each for a ticket to taste more than 25 chilis brought in by volunteers; bread donated by a local business, this year Third Window Brewing Company; and ice cream.

“Trophies were ordered, labels were made, judges were confirmed, flyers were printed, the set-up plan was finalized, and logos were created,” Causera said. “It was hours and hours of work. When we had the difficult conversation about canceling the event, I was amazed about how quickly they were looking for alternatives.

“One small but mighty group of girls helped me put together our MVP (Marymount Virtual Platform) Family Cook-off.”

On April 28, the date of the planned cook-off, families were encouraged to don their favorite Marymount gear and cook dinner together, get their favorite take-out, or make their own chili recipe, and share their pictures online.

“We wanted to celebrate family time, cooking together with our loved ones, reflecting on what we have, and not on missing the chili cook-off,” Causera said. “This is why I love being a teacher. They remind me to focus on what really matters.”

Last year, students raised more than $11,000 for Storyteller, a therapeutic preschool in Santa Barbara for homeless or at-risk children. This year, students chose K9 Pals as their nonprofit, which provides resources and services for dogs in the Santa Barbara County Animal Services shelters and rescues.

Marymount plans to reschedule the Chili Cook-off for when people can gather safely on campus again. In the meantime, students are still maintaining their service-oriented outlook by performing small acts of kindness like writing thank-you notes and doing chores around their homes and neighborhoods.

Judging by the outpouring of pictures of kids helping in the kitchen and families circled around a table, their bonds as a school are still strong.

“Receiving pictures last night was such a beautiful way to feel connected with this amazing and supporting community,” Causera said. “We did not have a chili cook-off this year, but I will never forget this family cook-off.”

Marymount is an independent school for children from age 3 through 8th grade that places equal value on the intellectual, social-emotional, and ethical dimensions of learning. For more information, email info@marymountsb.org or call 805-569-1811 ext. 131.