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Smoke, spice and service: Cookoff raises $10K for Make A Wish

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By LPR Staff

Editor/POST-REGISTER

 

Driven by the memory of a 6-year-old snatched from the world too soon, the Hill Country Barbecue Association (HCCO) hosted one of the state’s top three barbecue cook-offs at Lockhart City Park in October, and closed this year’s efforts on Sunday by making a huge presentation to the Make A Wish Fou

ndation.

In 2004, a meager 13 teams joined together for the first annual Hill Country State Championship Barbecue Cookoff, according to organizer and HCCO founder Richard Anzaldua. Over the years, as cook-offs do, the event has grown as smokers from across the state seek out the opportunity to gather, earn bragging rights, and serve charitable organizations while having fun. Now in its eleventh year, the Hill Country Championship has grown to include 175 teams in their most recent outing this fall.

“Because of the size of the event, Cabela’s could not offer us any more room,” Anzaldua said of the cookoff, which in recent years had been hosted at the outdoor retail giant in Buda. “So…. Why not ask the Barbecue Capital of Texas.”

Apart from being the Barbecue Capital of Texas, Lockhart held additional thrall for Anzaldua as the host city for the Make A Wish Fundraiser. Anzaldua’s grandson, Elijah Deleon, who lost his fight with leukemia, is buried at the Lockhart Municipal Cemetery.

“Planning the event couldn’t have been any easier. The doors flew open for us,” he said. “One day Mari (Anzaldua’s girlfriend and Elijah’s grandmother) said, ‘do you know why things are so good for us in Lockhart? Because Elijah is bringing [the cookoff] closer to him.’”

After learning of Elijah’s diagnosis, his family worked hard to check off his tiny “bucket list,” which included a trip to McDonalds, a trip to Cabela’s, and a trip to the beach, and a hotel with a swimming pool. The first two were easy, Anzaldua said. His grandparents immediately took him to the fast food giant, and his maternal grandmother, Mary Bustamante, hosted a party for him at Cabela’s, with pizza and presents.

The beach was more difficult.

“As we were starting to plan to take him to South Padre Island, hospice stepped in and said we didn’t have that much time,” Anzaldua said. “So we said we would take him somewhere closer, to Port Aransas. They stepped in again. And then we heard from the Make A Wish Foundation.”

Because of his quickly fading health, the beach trip was not possible. Instead, Make A Wish arranged for a trip to Sea World for the boy, which was to be held on April 9, 2014. A cooperative effort between Make A Wish, Sea World and Aquatica secured a day at the park, complete with a beach, for Elijah’s last wish.

Unfortunately, Elijah developed a fever on the way to the amusement park, and the family was forced to cancel their trip to seek medical treatment. He slipped his mortal bonds that night, without ever having enjoyed his day in the sand.

“In our appreciation of what Make A Wish did for him this is why we are donating to them,” Anzaldua said. “…so other kids that are going through what he did will hopefully get their day in the sand.”

On Sunday, Anzaldua, along with the rest of Elijah’s family and representatives of HCCO, met with the Make A Wish Foundation to make a presentation of a $10,000 donation, gleaned from the efforts of the Hill Country State Championship in October.

For more information on the Make A Wish Foundation, which grants wishes to terminally ill children, visit www.wish.org.

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