WAXAHACHIE — The annual Gingerbread House Chili Cook-off wrapped up its 16th year of fundraising with the primary cook-off event Saturday, followed by a benefit Barn Dance and a final cook-off Sunday afternoon.

The cooks, who competed in both Chile Appreciation Association International (CASI) and non-CASI classes, arrived early Saturday morning to begin preparations for the largest cook-off of the weekend. CASI cooks were out in throngs to gain points with hopes of qualifying for the international competition held in Terlingua in November, while the non-CASI cooks were vying for bragging rights.

Outside of the classic CASI Chili class, other classes included junior, novice, chili with beans and showmanship, which was a competition for the best-themed booth.

Volunteers and many guests at the cook-off did all of the judging, however, each entry was judged by CASI rules and under the watchful eye of CASI Judge Mark Sanders and his assistants.

The entry fees from Saturdays and Sunday’s cook-off directly benefitted the Gingerbread House.

“I really do not have to cook. I’m automatically qualified to go to Terlingua because I’m a past Terlingua Champion," said Jason Goains of Meridian. "I come here to see my old chili friends and my entry fees go to support the Gingerbread House."

Melissa Johnson noted, "Besides cooking here and trying for the chance to go to Terlingua, this cookoff has a whole different meaning for my family. My purpose is to benefit the Waxahachie Gingerbread House. It is dear to my heart because it is a facility where abused children can go and feel safe and be with people that care about them."

Gingerbread House Executive Director John Wycoff explained that the event is "operated solely by volunteers and on donations. We have other fundraisers through the year, but this is our largest. Being a non-profit center that strictly relies on donations is not easy, but we have been recently a recognized fundraising center."

The Gingerbread House was selected as the first recipient of the 100 Givers campaign this year and has previously been acknowledged by the Waxahachie Chamber of Commerce. The organization will again be recognized by the chamber at its 89th annual Academy Awards on Feb. 23 and was previously recognized by the Midlothian Chamber of Commerce as the non-profit organization of the year.

“We are very excited to promote the center and educate the public about who we are and what we do through events such as the chili cook-off,” Wyckoff said.

During the Barn Dance, Wyckoff and Gingerbread House Board President, Katheryn Sarchia presented board treasurer, Mike Navarro with the "Volunteer of the Year" award.

“He has been my treasurer for 16 years. In fact, I had to request a change in the bylaws to keep him as my treasurer. He has been that important to the Gingerbread House,” Wyckoff said. “I want to thank all the donors for the silent auction, donors who purchased the tables and all who came to benefit the Gingerbread House."