Church extends its holiday table to many
BURDETT--When you're expecting a lot of guests for Thanksgiving, your day starts early. When you're expecting about 325 guests, give or take a few dozen, you're in the kitchen at 5 a.m. or so Thanksgiving day. Among the event's essentials are generous helpings of planning community support and a dedicated corps of volunteers.
Pastor Richard Evans of the Burdett Presbyterian Church credits Marge Arcangeli with the original idea, in 2005. Finding herself with an empty nest after her children were grown, "We thought we're not going to cook for two people! So I mentioned it to Dick and Marty Evans and asked them what they thought," she said. "There's a lot of people who do not get together or might want to join the church family so we opened it up." These days, instead of cooking a Thanksgiving meal for two people, she's helping to cook for hundreds.
That first Thanksgiving, 37 people sat down to eat together. The tradition of offering Thanksgiving dinner to anyone who wanted to join the celebration, including shut-ins and people without close family nearby expanded. Ingredients were donated and people gathered several days in advance to prepare food. JoAnn and Jud Caslin, for instance, donate potatoes. This year they're bringing 200 pounds of potatoes, because last year's 150 pounds wasn't quite enough. JoAnn says, "Myself and a bunch of ladies will peel them...We'll start around 7 or 8 and peel them until we get them done. I like doing them," she adds.
Businesses and individuals donate turkeys, squash, cranberry relish, green beans and rolls. Church members bake pies, often one or two--though Arcangeli says she's planning on making about 15 apple pies and her granddaughter, Samantha Phillips, will bake the same number of pumpkin pies. The turkeys are roasted in the church kitchen, which Arcangeli says is a good, well set-up kitchen to do a lot of work in. And, "We have a lot of angels in our church," she says.
Once the food comes together on Thanksgiving Day, more than 150 take-out meals are assembled under the direction of Marty Evans, then transported by volunteer drivers to shut-ins and residents of Jefferson Village, Watkins Glen Middle School Apartments, Romeo Village, Sydney Place Apartments and Catherine Court who requested meals. People from the community come to the church fellowship hall and are served there. Pastor Evans says they come for a variety of reasons. "There's no one reason," he notes. "Some come for economic need, some for social need, some because they're empty nesters and just want company." Guests who need take-outs or plan to come to dinner may RSVP by calling the Burdett Presbyterian Church at 546-8560.
Possibly one of the most remarkable aspects of this dinner is that it's accomplished by a small but determined congregation with only about 30 active members. They recruit friends and family to gather additional volunteers to help with food preparation, setting tables, doing deliveries, greeting people and, of course, cleanup. "We need as many hands on deck as possible as we get ready." Evans says.
In Montour Falls, the lights will also be burning early at the fellowship hall of the Montour Falls Baptist Church where the Rev. George Norton is expecting more than 100 people for dinner. Partnering with the Odessa Baptist Church, they begin stuffing turkeys and roasting them at about 4 a.m. All the dinner ingredients are donated; volunteers prepare food and deliver it, and the doors open for a meal that includes volunteers and members of the community.
"This year we're doing six turkeys," Norton says. "There will probably be one in the oven at the parsonage, too. There's someone who always likes to prepare the stuffing and someone who always likes to carve." Among the guests will be seniors who don't have nearby family--"And it's wonderful for them to have a full Thanksgiving meal they don't have to prepare. Sometimes travel plans have fallen through. Or someone finds themselves as a single partner raising a family." The result, he says, is community-building. (Call the Montour Falls Baptist Church to RSVP at 535-7310.)
In both churches, when all the takeout meals have reached their destinations, when guests who came for dinner have been served and the volunteer drivers returned, the workers and their families sit down for their own Thanksgiving feast together. "My family knows where I'm going to be," Norton says.
And when they count the good things in their lives, "I'm grateful for all the support we get and all the volunteers and God's blessing on what we're doing," Evans says.