The annual East Texas Oilmen’s Chili Cook-off, which usually brings about 10,000 people to downtown Kilgore, has been cancelled because of COVID-19 concerns.

The fundraising event that takes places in late October or early November on Commerce Street won't be held for the first time in its 28-year history.

The decision by the board to cancel the event was a difficult one and not taken lightly, but event chair Nicole Oubre believes it was the right one.

“It wasn’t easy, but I feel like our country is facing something that we’ve never faced before, and how do you prepare for something months in advance when you don’t know what months in advance brings?,” Oubre said. “When they closed everything down back in March, I’m sure we all thought by July we’d be back to normal, and here we are not back to normal. Here we are now all being required to wear face masks any time we’re in public, so I just think right now you can’t really foresee what the rest of 2020 has for us.”

Oubre said social distancing would be impossible at the cook-off.

“It’s a 10,000-person event, and right now the state isn’t even allowing 10 or more to get together, so things may get better, I’m praying, between now and October, but it’s very hard for us to plan and take people’s money, take company’s money, get prepared if it may not even happen,” she said. “So, it was a very very, very difficult decision to make, but we don’t even know if the state would allow us to have it come October, let alone what stipulations we’d have to abide by to have that event. We’d rather play safe than sorry.”

With the oilfield hurting, Oubre said organizers didn’t want to take money from the companies that usually participate in the cook-off.

“Kilgore is an oilfield-based town, and right now the oilfield is not doing good,” she said. “So although the oilfield companies that have participated have always been very generous, at this point in time I would rather them put that money back into their own companies. People are getting laid off left and right. Hours are getting cut, businesses and doors are being closed, and I’d rather a company invest that back into themselves than donate right now. If companies can donate, that’s great, but I just don’t feel comfortable asking for that right now.

"In addition to us, these companies that participate, a lot of them reserve things and start planning and purchasing things before the event in addition to paying their entry fee, and I just think right now it’d be irresponsible for us to even give people the possibility that it could happen. It’s just safer for us to say no and keep everybody safe in the long run.”