The challenge was on at Flying Horse Ranch the evening of May 8. Twelve local restaurants were given a selection of food items typically found at the Tri-Lakes Cares (TLC) food pantry. Their mission: to create tasty dishes to tempt the taste buds of the 300 guests and that could easily be duplicated by patrons of the food pantry.

Each restaurant was provided with one of two combinations of non-perishable ingredients, to be combined with any other ingredients of their choice. The only rule was that all the food provided had to be used to make one or more dishes. The combinations included: No. 1, canned black beans, pineapple and corn, Swiss Miss cocoa mix and boxed mashed potatoes; No. 2, canned pumpkin and tomatoes, Stove Top stuffing mix, Swiss Miss cocoa mix, and condensed milk.

The resulting creations were varied and quite interesting.

The event benefited TLC to the tune of approximately $22,000. Guests wove through several large rooms at the event center, alternately visiting interactive educational booths popular food tables. The goal of the evening was to inform guests about the kinds of services TLC provides, offering games and giveaways at the booths, while making sure everyone was amply fed.

“The main takeaway from this event is that people leave with a taste of Tri-Lakes Cares both literally and figuratively,” said TLC Executive Director Haley Chapin. “They sample food that is cooked with items from our food pantry; they play games that educate them about products and services we offer the community.

“The event is about raising support for our mission of serving northern El Paso County residents who find themselves in a time of need,” Chapin added.

Attendees Tracy Pollner and Brad Dail compared the event to the TV show “Chopped” where the contestants create prize-winning dishes using mandatory ingredients.

“This is pretty cool and interesting, and many of the restaurants provide recipes for their creations,” Pollner said. “Some of the food is odd, but good. I love odd things!”

In between bidding on silent auction items and playing games, Taste of Tri-Lakes attendees sampled the inventive food items. Texas Roadhouse presented a mac-and-cheese dish with a tasty stuffing topping and chocolate pumpkin pie. R&R-A Coffeehouse and Cafe even whipped up a pumpkin pie made with stuffing mix. Another hit was the deep-fried pineapple chunks with hot cocoa drizzle, a creation of Broken Bones BBQ. Other dishes ranged from various soups and casseroles, many pumpkin desserts, black bean brownies, and a dish called Food Bank Mystery Nachos.

Tri-Lakes Cares is a community-based, volunteer-supported resource center whose purpose is to improve people’s lives through emergency, self-sufficiency and relief programs, according to its website. In addition to a foodbank, the nonprofit also provides assistance with rent, utilities and medical care.

TLC clients David and Jassmond, whose last names are withheld to protect their privacy, moved to Colorado more than three years ago from Maryland. David is disabled, and Jassmond lost her job in Maryland, she says due to age discrimination. Once they arrived in El Paso County, a neighbor noticed the pair was struggling and suggested they seek help from TLC. The organization has supplied ongoing services for them over the past few years, helping them get back on their feet. TLC paid a vendor fee so Jassmond could sell her handmade garden statues at a craft fair. Both David and Jassmond were given medical assistance to get new glasses and visit a dentist. Though reluctant to face the stigma of asking for help, David and Jassmond said TLC has been continually supportive and nonjudgmental. They visit the food bank twice a week. David has given talks at local churches sharing his positive experiences with TLC, and Jassmond has worked with the Tri-Lakes Chamber of Commerce to ensure that TLC receives ongoing support from the community.

For more information, go to tri-lakescares.org.

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