WINTHROP — This is the third year that Mark and Lillian Lake have driven over from Wilton to sample the spread at Keep Winthrop Warm’s Chili, Chowder and Soup Throw-down.

At one time, Mark Lake’s uncle ran a barbershop in town, but they didn’t come for family nostalgia. They didn’t come for the convivial community atmosphere in the Winthrop High cafeteria. They came for the food – the creamy soups, the robust chilis and the milky chowders.

In front of each one sat a cafeteria tray loaded with 14 samples from the friendly competitors in the business, restaurant and municipal categories and a couple of pieces of bread.

Mark Lake cradled the little plastic cup in his fingers, contemplated it for just a second and then tossed it back.

“I love hot stuff,” he said. “I like it so hot it burns my mouth and my eyes water.”

None of the chili offerings in front of him caused the least bit of discomfort, but he, along with dozens of other people, enjoyed them just the same, in part because the food was good and in part because of what the event supported.

For the last six years, Keep Winthrop Warm, a community group organized around providing heating assistance to those in the area who need it but can’t qualify for other assistance, has thrown the Throw-down as its single biggest fundraiser. The event was patterned after an annual event held in Lincoln County that a friend of board member Dick Guerette had told him about. To get it going, a local attorney offered a stake of $5,000 and told the group to do what it could with it.

“We see the need,” Guerette, owner of Winthrop Fuel Co., said. Guerette sees that firsthand when he goes on service calls, as do the Winthrop fire department and ambulance service, which also have membership on the board.

“We want to make sure no one goes cold,” Guerette said. The group is able to help an average of 15 families a year.

Between the $5 admission, the sale of raffle tickets for giveaways and the 50-50 raffle tickets, the event raised about $2,000 from 150 people, Keep Winthrop Warm board president Eric Thoreson said. Attendance was down a bit from previous years, but with a very good reason: The Winthrop Ramblers were getting ready to play in Saturday’s Class C South championship later in the evening. Thoreson said he suspected people wanted to get to the Augusta Civic Center early.

“That’s not too bad, considering the slow start we got,” Thoreson said.

Just as the tasters come back year after year, so do the cooks. Sandy Burgess, representing Kennebec Savings Bank in the business class, brought her signature dish, creamy vegetable soup with meat. She won with the entry last year and she won again Saturday. “I’ve won or placed every year with the same thing,” she said. “When I stop winning, I’ll make something else.”

Burgess’ soup was tucked in among the choices in front of Mark Lake. When he finished his selections, he reached for his wife’s tray, pausing only to go get a cookie from the Rotary bake sale, and to vote by dropping a button in the cannisters of his favorite samples. Lillian Lake is on a severely restricted diet, so she was able to enjoy a bit of the lobster in the one of the chowders before passing the rest off to her husband.

“What I like about this is that it’s $5, and everyone can come. It’s nice,” she said, adding that they also contribute by buying raffle tickets.

“It comes down to how you build community.”

Jessica Lowell can be contacted at 621-5632 or at:

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Twitter: JLowellKJ