MCB Places in the “Down by the River Chili Cookoff”

With so much community support, the BWL raised more than $34,000 for Adopt A River and Pennies for Power (administered by Capital Area Community Services). The program helps individuals who are in need of additional funds to pay their utility bills.

For the second year in a row, the Michigan Commission for the Blind (MCB) team of volunteers won a trophy at the cook-off! Last year, they took the gold trophy for Best Meatless Chili, and this year they got the bronze.

A total of 39 organizations served 100 varieties of chili at this year’s competition. The MCB is the only state government agency among the various restaurants and fire departments who enter. They enter the cook-off for two reasons: 1.) We want people to know about the services we provide for people who are blind and visually impaired. A number of causes of blindness are age-related, and as the baby boomers get older, some of them will find that they’re losing their ability to see. Our services help people learn how to do what they’ve always done in a new way, without vision. These services are funded by state and federal funding, and include training and other services to help people become independent in their homes and employed in the careers of their choice. 2.) Food service in state and federal buildings in Michigan is provided, by law, by blind individuals trained in our Business Enterprise Program. These individuals are independent entrepreneurs. One of them allows the volunteers to prepare the chili at his location, the State Plate, which is on Capitol Avenue at Ottawa. The cook-off is a good way to call attention to these entrepreneurs and encourage more people to patronize their establishments.

This year at the cook-off, Michigan Commission for the Blind volunteers served 40 gallons of chili and handed out 1,000 Braille fortune cookies and Braille alphabet cards with information on MCB’s services. Some people wouldn’t leave the table until they’d successfully deciphered their fortunes, and some teachers asked for extra Braille cards for their classrooms.

Constance Zanger, Assistant Administrator of the MCB Business Enterprise Program, is also known among staff as the Chief Chili Organizer, or simply the Chili Queen. "We start work on this in January. It’s a group effort. During the cook-off, some people ask, ‘What restaurant are you?’ I tell them, "We do the food service in state and federal buildings,’ and then they know who we are."

Leamon Jones, MCB Director of Consumer Services, said, "It was a great event. We served a lot of chili, and we talked to a lot of people about our services for people who are blind and visually impaired. People were especially intrigued with the Braille fortune cookies and Braille alphabet cards."

MCB Business Enterprise Program Administrator Fred Wurtzel said, "All of the chili we served was prepared at the State Plate, located across the street from the Capitol. It takes a lot of volunteer time to prepare 40 gallons of chili, but we’re glad to help–it’s all for a good cause."

For more information on the Michigan Commission for the Blind and its services for people who are blind and visually impaired, see or call 1-800-292-4200 toll free in Michigan. For more information about the other contestants log on to