Linda Soto said Saturday's did more than raise money to help her family after her husband, officer Pete Soto, was critically injured in an on-duty crash.
It helped renew her faith in humanity.
Over the years, she had heard her husband's stories of the cases and people he dealt with working in police departments in Sandusky, Lorain and Avon. The stories were often about people at their worst, their lowest, their most hateful and despicable.
She hadn't realized how the stories had made her a wee bit cynical about human nature, until Pete almost died while riding his police motorcycle Oct. 12.
A truck pulled out onto Route 83 in Avon Lake in front of Pete as he was in search of an assault victim. Pete slid under the truck and suffered life-threatening injuries including a lacerated spleen, broken leg and shattered pelvis. He was heavily sedated for several days, in critical condition, at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland and ended up spending almost two months there before being released in early December.
Since the crash, the Sotos have seen the best people have to offer. Saturday's event, a sellout with almost 600 people showing up to sample chili made by five first responder agencies and a motorcycle club, was the latest example of that.
The Sotos' 15-year-old son, Aaron, said the way people were reaching out to his family was still surprising.
"Makes me happy that so many people care about my dad," said Aaron.
Aaron's sisters, 18-year-old Elizabeth and 21-year-old Amanda, agreed.
"People know he took care of them, now they want to give back," Elizabeth said.
"It still amazes me, getting cards from people we never met who just want to let us know they care," Amanda said.
Pete Soto spent the evening surrounded by fellow officers and well-wishers.
"People coming up and saying they're praying for me, it's very uplifting," he said.
The event also boosted the spirits of Avon's other police officers.
"It makes us feel good to know that if something happened to us like it happened to Pete, the community would be there for us," said officer Jeannine Coe.
Dozens of items were donated by area businesses, from coupons for products and services to gift baskets to a $700 tanning bed, said Avon police officer Andy Kehl, who was in charge of coordinating donations for the event. They were all part of a Chinese raffle. There was also a 50-50 raffle. Volunteers baked hundreds of cupcakes for attendees.
Avon Lake police officer Brian Hurd said the Avon Lake American Legion donated enough for them to make 90 quarts of chili. Novotny Catering let them have use of the kitchen and some of their equipment.
The Warthogs brought a combination barbecue grill/smoker to the event to make Anthony Rich's recipe for a New Orleans-inspired chili made with pulled pork.
Avon police officer Chris Barton has been organizing the event since November. He said it was gratifying to see the event sell out.
"It means a lot to us to see the community come together and come out to support us like this," he said.
Couldn't make it to the chili cook-off? You can make donations to the Officer Pete Soto Benefit Fund at any Lorain National Bank branch.