ELKHART — Hundreds gathered at Elkhart’s Central Park on Saturday, Oct. 12, to enjoy some chili, play some cornhole and help a good cause at the Pillars of Elkhart’s Oktoberfest.
In its fifth year, Oktoberfest is put on by Pillars to benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters of Elkhart County.
Saturday’s festivities featured entertainment for all ages, including a chili cook-off, beer from Iechyd Da, a cornhole tournament, the ETHOS Science Center’s Science 2 Go bus and music by local band MR Z.
This Oktoberfest was the biggest to date.
Stephanie Patka, executive director of BBBS of Elkhart County, said the attendance at this year’s Oktoberfest eclipsed the turnout from 2012, even just after the first few hours.
“This is easily triple the attendance we had last year,” Patka said. “The event is just absolutely amazing.”
“Last year, we had 145 kids come through the whole event,” she added. Patka then noted that more than 200 had been through in the first two hours Saturday.
The cornhole tournament featured a 14-team bracket. Twelve local restaurants and businesses offered their takes on chili, and MR Z entertained the crowd with pop songs current and classic.
“We have a ton of activities,” she said.
Chili cook-off winners were announced at 4 p.m. in three categories: People’s Choice, Judges’ Choice and Best Decorated Booth.
Community Hospital of Bremen won the People’s Choice and best decorated booth, while the judges selected McCarthy’s on the RiverWalk for their category.
Though there were no numbers Saturday afternoon for how much money had been raised, Patka and Ben Decker, of Pillars, said the event raised about $2,500 last year and they expected more this year due to the increase in attendance.
The money will be used to help BBBS throughout the year.
“We use the funds when we make matches between an adult and child. We use that to support that match relationship,” Patka explained.
With volunteer help from Elkhart Central’s Key Club, Elkhart Memorial’s Speech Team and the Pillars themselves, Oktoberfest went smoothly.
“We couldn’t be more pleased with this event,” Patka said. “It’s great because it’s an event that brings people downtown, but it’s also a joint event between Pillars and Big Brothers Big Sisters.”
Add in the volunteer help from the schools, participation of local restaurants, sponsorships from local businesses and the park space provided by the city, that joint event becomes a community effort, Patka noted.
“This event totally rocks,” she beamed. “It just started with four cornhole boards on Main Street and it just keeps growing and growing and growing.”