Chili Gumbo Fest

Chili Gumbo Fest

History of Chili Fest:

30 years ago, the agency’s longest-tenured employee, Sharon Willard, was given a task: host a fundraiser to benefit the Community Action Agency of New Haven’s Elderly Nutrition/Meals on Wheels program.* Never having coordinated a large fundraising event before, she got to researching right away and discovered the International Chili Society (ICS), an organization that sanctions cookoffs nationwide to raise money for charities and non-profits year-round.

That was the beginning of a rich history of food and fun at East Shore Park. Over the years we’ve had a helicopter landing, pony rides, local celebrity appearances, a chicken run, we even had Huey Lewis of “Huey Lewis and the News” perform at our 3rd cookoff!! —But the one thing that’s always the same? Delicious Chili! With serious ICS competitors on the scene, vying for a chance to earn the coveted title of World Champion at the World Championship Chili Cook-Off® held annually each fall, we’re willing to bet it’s the best you’ve ever tasted. Oh, and by the way, you can also sample a variety of beers to cool off those taste buds at the FEST!

So, when and how did it become Chili-Gumbo Fest?... Keep reading.

In January 2023, members of the CAANH’s executive team boarded a flight to a national Community Action conference in New Orleans, Louisiana. As the flight landed, the team was greeted by the culture of New Orleans. As they journeyed to the hotel in the reserved transportation van, they could overhear conversations of other visitors expressing their excitement and anticipation of indulging in the local cuisine of beignets and gumbo.

As they explored New Orleans over the next few days, they tried several different versions of gumbo at restaurants along Royal, Bourbon, Decatur, Chartres, Dauphine Street and North Peters Street. After indulging in savory New Orleans-style gumbo, that was a true taste of Southern tradition, they were hooked. The boldly flavored stew was bursting with fresh, filling ingredients like bell pepper, sausage, stewed tomatoes, chicken, sausage, ham, seafood, okra, tomatoes, greens, shrimp and crabmeat.

Collectively, the decision was made to add this vestige of Louisiana’s shared Creole-Cajun heritage to CAANH’s annual Chilifest, as a nod to the cultural and ethnic diversity of the communities that CAANH serves. With the addition of gumbo, we invite our Community Partners to try their hand at the People’s Choice Gumbo Competition.

Do you want to be apart of CAANH's Chili Gumbo Fest?

We are seeking local organizations to join us at East Shore Park to cook onsite and sample their best gumbo recipe to the public. Examples of a team include a fire department, a nonprofit organization, a local restaurant, a school, or even a family or group of friends. Send us a message to learn more about how to get involved!

    * At the time, the agency was contractually required to raise $25K for the Elderly Nutrition/Meals on Wheels Program. In 2009, the proceeds of the event were transferred to the Food Pantry when Meals on Wheels was discontinued at CAANH. Today, the Fest raises funds to support all agency programs such as Father F.A.C.T.O.R. & S.M.A.R.T. Women, to name a few. Event attendance is free, but we ask for a donation of canned goods upon entry.

    2024 Chili Gumbo Fest

    2023 Chili Gumbo Fest