From left, the families who donated pots for the chili feed include: (front row) Bruce Corn, Renae Corn, Judy Kemble, Vicki Winegar, Ray Winegar, Lou Wettstein; (back row) Jim Sutton, Roy Hasebe, Steve Kemble, Jack Hasebe, Jim Trenkel and Sam Mori. (The Enterprise/Kristine de Leon)

ONTARIO – For six decades, Cairo Elementary School has been more than a place of learning. 

That was evident last week when 15 people gathered at the school gym with large, silver cooking pots.

They were kicking off preparations for the 60th annual Chili Feed at Cairo Elementary, coming up on Feb. 28. 

The yearly tradition started in 1959 after two elementary schools – Lincoln and Valley View – merged and became Cairo Elementary. That same year, Cairo’s Parent Teacher Organization was formed.

Since then, the Cairo PTO has continued the tradition of organizing creative and fun events for students, school staff and parents.

The Cairo PTO held its first chili feed as a way to bring the community together and raise money for the school and teachers. 

The Chili Feed was always a huge community effort, said Cairo PTO president Kelly Ellis. 

“When it first started, members of the PTO had to go around the community and borrow pots. They’d go to the armory, Nyssa, Ontario and others to ask for pots,” said Ellis. “Then the PTO thought the school should just buy their own pots, so they asked members of the community to pitch in money or buy pots.”

Those seven families who pitched in a pot were the ones gathered at Cairo last week. These pots have been used to make chili since 1986.

For people like Jim Trenkel, whose mother was one of the original pot donors, the chili feed has always been special. Several generations of his family walked the school halls, including his mother, who was one of the first members of the Cairo PTO.

At that time, students paid 25 cents and adults paid 35 cents to eat at the Chili Feed.

Today, it’s $5. But each person can still get unlimited chili, cornbread, salad, a dessert and a drink. 

“I’ve been going to the Chili Feed my whole life,” said Draper. “It’s a great for just five bucks. We haven’t raised the price of tickets to the Chili Feed in years.”

The food sticks to tradition.

“We’re still using the same chili feed recipe since 1959. We’ve also used the same salad dressing recipe to make the Eastside salad every year,” said Kate Draper, a parent and PTO vice president. “The event is always held in February because that’s when the ranchers and farmers weren’t so busy.”

Since the 1960s, the Ontario Farmer Supply Co-op has been donating all the beans for the chili. Local ranchers, too, pitch in ground beef. And more recently, members of the community have been pitching the desserts.

Their contributions are a great help for the PTO, which won’t be hosting the usual silent auction this year to raise extra money.

“Instead, we’re looking for sponsors,” Ellis said.

Sponsors can be families or businesses, and they can donate between $50 and $1000, said Ellis. 

“The PTO uses the funds to give teachers money at the beginning of the year to buy supplies or hold activities,” said Ellis.