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Jamie Loveall stands for a portrait in the Meals on Wheels headquarters on Thursday in Casper. The group's longtime fundraiser will be held in a new location this year.

The first of the city’s two large winter chili celebrations is Friday, this time in a new location. We checked in with Jamie Loveall, executive director of Natrona County Meals on Wheels, about the 20th annual Bubbles, Baubles ‘n Beans fundraiser.

The big news is your location. Yes, with the Parkway Plaza closed, the only other place close to big enough is the Industrial Building at the fairgrounds. It’s going to be hard because you get everything with the plan at the same place so down after so many years, but they have been so helpful out at the fairgrounds. It’s just a pleasure working with everyone.

And the space is actually larger? I think it’s going to be bigger. We have room for over 100 tables, so that’s seating for at least 600 at a time. I think if you’ve been discouraged at the Parkway in the past because you couldn’t find seats, I think you’ll have an easier time finding seats now. The parking is much closer and all together, and there is so much more parking, too. The one thing people should know is that the indoor restrooms at the Industrial Building were already in the process of being remodeled when we made the switch in location, so there will be heated and lighted restroom trailers outside. These are not portable potties, but the much nicer trailers.

You could still use a few commercial chili and soup makers, right? We have a lot of our old favorites and some new ones. The event is a week earlier than normal so we’re not seeing the response as quickly as we have in the past. We ideally would like 26 to 30 providers and right now I have 20. We need at least 15 gallons of soup or chili from each of them.

Tickets can be purchased in advance or at the door? Admission tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the door. Kids age 5 and under are free. Tickets can be purchased at the Meals On Wheels office, 1760 E. 12th St.; Party America; The Cadillac Cowgirl; Porter’s Mountain View Supply; Hilltop National Bank (Country Club location); First Interstate Bank (downtown location); and Blue Ridge Coffee.

How has the attendance been in the past? We have had anywhere up to 1,300 people. The retired folks like to come right at 4 p.m. when we open, and then they stay and visit a while, and then our next wave is the after-work crowd around 5:30 p.m. We serve up to 8 p.m. provided the chili and soup hold out, so people can come out whenever is best for them. And there are beverages from Pepsi and Budweiser and ice cream from Johnny J’s, as well as the chili and soup.

And your cash raffle is back? Yes, the pot o’ beans raffle is a chance to win 31 cash prizes of at least $125 for $100. The last bean in the pot wins $5,000 cash. If you buy your “bean” ahead of time, it includes two tickets to the event. We’ll have the bean tickets to buy there, too, but they don’t include admission tickets.

You still have the package raffle too? Yes, you buy one ticket for $5 (or more), and pick the raffle package you want a chance to win.

How many clients do you currently have? We just finished our first quarter and served 44,000 meals; that was up 300 from last year. Our funding is actually pretty stable between federal and state, but what I think people don’t understand is that they don’t fully fund us. Our funded per meal reimbursement is $2.60 and that barely covers food costs. So we need United Way and the Daniels Fund and fundraisers like these to cover the other half of our expenses, and because we’re federally funded, we are not allowed to charge anybody for the meals.

Why do you think your numbers are increasing? We have an aging population for sure, and what happens is we go along and everything is fine and then we get sick and we’re not able to do the things for ourselves we used to, like cooking hot, nutritious meals.

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Community News Editor

Sally Ann Shurmur arrived at the Star-Tribune to cover sports two weeks after graduating from the University of Wyoming and now serves as community news editor. She was raised in Laramie and is a passionate fan of Cowboys football, food and family.

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