Every year at this time, Fr. Doug Neel, rector of St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church, asks congregation members to begin baking pies for the annual Loaves and Fishes Thanksgiving meal, sponsored by St. Patrick’s.
This year’s meal will be served at the Parish Hall downtown on Thursday, Nov. 17, beginning at 11:30 a.m.
St. Patrick’s has traditionally taken on the task of roasting enough turkeys and making enough dressing and side dishes to feed about 350-400 people. Fr. Doug has requested that the congregation bake about 50 pies, a sizable number for the small congregation. Yet, the people of St. Patrick’s always come through, providing delicious pumpkin, cherry, apple and chocolate pies to delight our guests.
Preparing the Thanksgiving feast for Loaves and Fishes is a labor of love for the congregation, an opportunity to demonstrate the thanksgiving they feel for the many blessings they share and a chance to share God’s blessing with others.
“Working together to prepare and serve meals at Loaves and Fishes brings a wonderful sense of community to the parishioners of St. Patrick’s,” said Fr. Doug. “We always have fun cooking together, laughing and joking as we go, and feeling a sense of joy in being able to serve others.”
Making enough food to feed 400 people is not an easy task by any means. Many hours go into the planning and cooking. Cooks gather the day before and begin doing the enormous amount of prep work for this great Thanksgiving feast, roasting the turkeys, mixing ingredients for the dressing, and slicing and dicing vegetables to be heated and served the next day.
On the day of the event, cooks arrive at the Parish Hall extra early to prepare and heat the meal. Servers arrive at about 10:30 a.m. to set tables, prepare deserts, and receive table assignments. The kitchen is staffed with cooks, dish washers, two people to serve the food onto plates and one other to prepare to-go boxes. A table is set up and staffed in the parish hall to receive and scrape dirty dishes and return them to the kitchen to be washed. Greeters are stationed at the front doors to welcome guests and point them toward a table. Once the guests are seated, servers take drink orders (usually tea, coffee, hot chocolate or lemonade, and water) and wait at the kitchen window to place food orders.
I enjoy greeting guests, making sure they have what they need, visiting with ones who have become friends over the years, and becoming acquainted with newer arrivals. My favorite job is taking around the dessert cart, filled with a large variety of tempting pies, cakes, cookies and donuts. When I ask guests if they would like something for their sweet tooth, the smiles and long considerations begin. These choices cannot be made lightly, after all. While one person is looking over the selection, others at the table are eying their favorite dessert, hoping no one will take it. Careful moms remind their young ones to finish their meal first, asking me to come back around a little later. I promise the disappointed children I will come back in a few minutes with their favorite cookie or cake, reminding them to be sure to eat their meal and be ready.
One question I often ask as our guests finish their meals is, “Is everybody happy?” This question is sometimes met with a bit of initial astonishment. Most of them carry around an enormous burden of fear and anxiety in their day to day lives, as they worry about how they will pay their utility bills, fix their tired vehicles or pay for the new registration fee, feed their families, or find employment. Happiness usually comes in very small increments indeed. Yet, on this day, they have been fed a hot nutritious meal, enjoyed communing with friends and strangers, and have laid aside their burdens for a short while. The answer to my question always comes back a resounding “Yes!” mixed with many expressions of thanks.
One man I often enjoy bantering with asked me, “So, who’s cooking today?” I told him, “It’s St. Patty’s Day!” He responded in his best fake Irish brogue, “Aye, now isn’t it a fine day when ol’ St. Patty is in the kitchen?” I totally agree!
Loaves and Fishes feeds between 200-300 people a week without charge, serving hot meals with meat, vegetables, bread, drinks and desert. Various organizations volunteer each week to cook and serve the meals. As a non-profit 501(c)3 organization, all donations of food, money or supplies are tax deductible and greatly appreciated.
To learn more about Loaves and Fishes and how you can help, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.