As far as Miriam Bowers Abbott is concerned, chili is a fitting metaphor for the United States as a whole and Ohio's capital city in particular.

As far as Miriam Bowers Abbott is concerned, chili is a fitting metaphor for the United States as a whole and Ohio's capital city in particular.

"It is the great American food and Columbus is a great American town," she said. "It's got a lot of different elements and you can do it a lot of different ways."

Those different elements and different ways will, for the third straight year on the weekend before the Super Bowl, provide some fun and raise some funds for a good cause -- in this case relief for the victims of the earthquake that struck Haiti on Jan. 12.

The Clintonville Chili Bowl, now expanded into a "showdown and social," according to coordinator Abbott, will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 30, at Maple Grove United Methodist Church, 7 W. Henderson Road.

What originated in 2008 as a chili cook-off, and has drawn as many as 30 competitors, is being expanded "to include less competitive souls," according to Abbott.

"This year we're introducing an additional 'social division;' bring anything chili-compatible to share, without fear of judgment," she wrote in an e-mail.

"There are a lot of people who are competition-shy," she said in an interview.

Those who don't shy from competition have until Sunday, Jan. 24, to register by sending an e-mail to allthedish@ hotmail.com.

More information is available at maplegroveumc.org.

The price to enter the competition is one pot of chili and $3. The price to sample the chili, both competitive and "social," at the 2010 Clintonville Chili Bowl, is also $3. That's reduced from the $5 charged the first two years.

"I think times are still tight even if the economy is improving," Abbott said. "I think we can honestly raise some funds and have a lot of fun if we drop the price to $3."

The first year the Chili Bowl was held at Maple Grove UMC, proceeds benefited renovations at the Whetstone Recreation Center. Last year, the beneficiary was the Clintonville-Beechwold Community Resources Center. This year, it will be the United Methodist Committee on Relief to help with efforts in Haiti, according to the Rev. Bill Croy of the church.

"I am very proud of the church's responsiveness to the situation in Haiti, and am heartened that the Clintonville Chili Bowl can help with the immense needs," Abbott wrote in an e-mail.

The annual event is timed a week and a day ahead of the National Football League championship game to give those attending time to sufficiently recover from over-indulging to be ready to do so all over again the following weekend, Abbott pointed out.

"So it's the other bowl, and who knows they may get some inspiration for what to serve on Super Bowl Sunday," she said.

Past competitions have drawn an amazing array of approaches to preparing chili, according to Abbott, everything from vegetarian versions and poultry approaches to chili made without tomatoes.

"Just all kinds of things you wouldn't think were in the same group of food, but all tied together by the name, if nothing else," she said. "It's cheap, it's fun and it's family friendly, so little people are more than welcome; just a great close to home way to spend a Saturday night."

"It's a riot," Croy said. "The first two years were just absolutely a great time. And we're just figuring out a way of doing that again.

"I was just overwhelmed with the variety of ways people make it, and all good, all good," he added.

kparks@thisweeknews.com