Whether you enjoy chili at the annual Opportunity Knocks cook-off or just enjoy being chilly at the new-this-year 10K run that precedes it, the deadline is fast approaching for 25 chefs to enter the sixth annual chili contest.

Phil Carmody, president of Opportunity Knocks, said the Jan. 12 event has grown so much they had to move it west down Madison Street to Molly Malone’s, where the group will have an outdoor tent.

“We’re expecting more than 500 people,” Carmody said.

Carmody, a Naperville firefighter, and his brothers started the local not-for-profit group, which provides activities for developmentally disabled young adults once they reach the age of 22 and are no longer able to attend public high school.

Chili cooks are urged to prepare their best beans and apply by Sunday, Jan. 5. Carmody said there will be a special trophy for veggie chilis this year.

“We do have a vegetarian faction at our events,” he said.

Last year’s first-place winners, Nick Vizzone and Tim Bode, created the Whisky Chili that impressed guest celebrity chef judges Steve Skrine of Skrine Chops, Jeff Mauro (TV’s Sandwich King) and Brendan O’Connor, owner of Big Guys Sausages in Berwyn.

Adding the 10 a.m. “Chilly Dash” race in the frigid January weather was brother Michael Carmody’s idea, Phil said.

Michael, a special education high school teacher, and a sister-in-law will be running with the rest of the group, Phil Carmody promised. The race will begin at the Opportunity Knocks headquarters at the River Forest Community Center, 8020 Madison St. The more donations the runners collect, the longer course they run, Phil said.

“And the coolest part of the concept is that the last mile before the finish line, five or six “warriors” will be waiting at the Juice Joint (7900 Madison Street) to finish the race together for the last mile.”

The “warriors” are the Opportunity Knocks participants who participate in job training, crafts and field trips through the group. They’re called “warriors” to acknowledge the challenges they face, the group says.

The cook-off starts at noon inside Molly Malone’s and inside the tent in the parking lot. Also new this year is a donut-eating contest where participants can gobble up to 24 donuts per person in five minutes.

“People can put the carbs back after the race,” Carmody said.

The Carmody family started Opportunity Knocks to honor their brother, John, 26, who has Down Syndrome and was running out of options as he approached high school graduation. Almost 80 percent of the program’s funding comes from private donations, Phil Carmody told the Review last summer. Last year, the chili cook-off raised more than $20,000, Carmody said.

“We re-upped our lease in July at the River Forest Community Center and added new space upstairs,” he said.

Carmody said the organization just started a “Life Shop” day pilot program to focus on 10 participants to teach them job skills, nutrition and fitness and other life skills.

“It’s a program designed for young people older than age of 22 to pick up the ball after the public school system sends them on their way,” Carmody said.

The organization’s goal is to expand the Life Shop program next year. Opportunity Knocks hosts a dance in April and a block party and softball tournament during the summer.

“Opportunity Knocks is a community- and family-based effort,” Carmody said. “We’re all amazed how fast it’s come in a short period of time.”

To sign up for the chili cook-off visit online at www.opportunityknocksnow.org and click the “Chili Cook-Off” link in the “Events” drop-down menu. 

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...