Barely one week into the summer, one of Evanston’s largest picnics took place on June 29 in the parking lot of Valli Produce in Evanston Plaza. Ten dollars bought two sliders, a bag of chips, a bottle of water and a ticket to vote for the favored burger.

This was the annual grill-off between the Evanston Police Department and the Evanston Fire Department, a fundraiser for the Evanston Police and Fire Foundation.

The Fire Department won again this year. The Fire in the Tropics burger garnered 117 votes, and the Elote Burger Fantastico was close, with 100.

The total of votes cast was lower than the number of people served, said Commander Ryan Glew of the Evanston Police Department, in part because this year, although uniformed firefighters and police officers could dine, they were not allowed to vote.

The grill-off raised $3,000 for the Foundation, Cmdr. Glew said. The Foundation purchases supplementary equipment – things that do not make it into the budget – for the Police and Fire departments, such as bicycles for patrol officers to use, sweat suits for sexual assault victims and uniforms for the honor guard.

The Foundation also sponsors the Police Explorer and the Fire Explorer programs.

The Fire Explorer program is open to young people ages 14 to 20. It familiarizes the young people with career opportunities in the fire services. Explorers are taught the basic skills of firefighting, and they participate in public service projects to help promote the Fire Department. According to the Fire Department’s page on the City’s website, the program offers ride-alongs, hands-on training, team-building exercises and “a chance to have fun, make friends and gain everlasting impacting experiences.” 

The Police Explorers program is open to Evanston youth in grades 9 through 12 who maintain a C average in school, have “good character” and can attend meetings twice a month, according to the Police Department page on the City’s website. The program is for students who want to learn more about law enforcement and its many fields. The program offers both classroom and hands-on learning. Explorers will experience traffic stops, conduct mock crime-scene investigations “and many other things, while having fun,” according to the Police Department. 

Steve Jordan, who has helped organize the grill-off for the past four years, told the RoundTable, “The great Evanston Police vs. Fire Grill Off of 2019 was a blazing success in that over 300 of Evanston’s finest citizenry came to the Valli Produce parking lot and enjoyed two of the best burgers in town provided by Evanston’s great first responders. This is the fourth year the event has been held at Valli’s. Each year Valli has provided all of the ingredients – and water, chips and ice at no cost whatsoever to the Evanston Police and Fire Foundation. When first approached about the event there was only one question, ‘How can we help?’

“The EPFF will use the funds generated from the Grill Off for financing grant requests from both the Fire and Police departments. Grants have been given to help supply the Explorer programs, the Citizen Academy programs, specialized radio equipment to ensure clear communications in high rise buildings, new patrol bicycles, dress coats for the Police Honor Guard and more.

“EPFF would like to thank all of the volunteers and board members for making this one of the best yet. A special shout out [goes] to the leaders of the Police and Fire Explorer programs and the young ladies and gentlemen who gave up their Saturday to help our tasteful event.”

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...