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Giving thanks at Loaves and Fishes

For the past three weeks, Fr. Doug Neel, rector of St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church, has been reminding his congregation that Thanksgiving is on its way.

That means it is time to get out the pie pans, gather the ingredients and get ready for the annual pie-baking marathon.

It is not that the folks at St. Patrick’s are gluttons; rather, those pies will be the final touch to a wonderful Thanksgiving meal they plan to prepare for the hundreds of people who will attend Thanksgiving lunch at Loaves and Fishes on Nov.15, 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 400-500 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 the 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 so many 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, the cooks arrive at the Parish Hall early to prepare and heat the meal. Servers arrive at about 10 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 and two others 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, lemonade and water) and wait at the kitchen window to place food orders.

During the course of the meal the desert cart is rolled around the room, filled with a large variety of tempting homemade pies. As guests are asked 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 desert, hoping no one will take it. Careful moms remind their young ones to finish their meal first, telling them that the dessert cart will come back around a little later. Children return to the meal at hand in an effort to satisfy mom, thinking about the sweet goodness to come.

One question servers sometimes ask their guests as they finish their meals is, “Is everybody happy?” This question is often met with a bit of astonishment. Most of those enjoying the delicious meal 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 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 this question almost always comes back a resounding “Yes,” mixed with many expressions of thanks.

Loaves and Fishes feeds between 200-300 people a week without charge, serving hot meals with meat, vegetables, bread, drinks and dessert. 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 or your organization can help, e-mail communityinharmony@gmail.com.

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