Every year when the first snowflakes swirl in the air, 67-year-old Bill Foster says he’s going to Florida. And every year Foster doesn’t go because he has 300 pounds of turkey to roast for the annual Meadville YWCA community Thanksgiving Day dinner.

This is the 34th year for the event and Foster has been the man in charge for more than 25 years. His dedication to the Thanksgiving dinner, as well as the YWCA community Christmas dinner, earned him the Crawford County Pomona Grange Community Service Award this year, but Foster shrugs off the accolades.

The young man with nowhere to go on Thanksgiving is the reason Foster puts forth the effort. Walking back and forth in front the of Y one year, Foster said, this young man said to him, “ ‘I know you’re having

a dinner, but I didn’t sign up.’ And I said, ‘Come on in. Everyone is welcome.’ ”

While 25 to 50 people reserve dinner plates for the event, Foster and his volunteers try to prepare enough food to feed 300. How many people show up is very unpredictable from year to year and Foster wonders if this year will be more than normal because of rising fuel prices.

“I’m gearing it up for a little more this year. I just have this feeling that I should prepare more this year,” said the Meadville resident. “That’s just how you have to run this dinner, with your instinct.”

Malady’s Meat Market always comes through with a donation of around 300 pounds of turkey, but Foster said the YWCA usually spend $600 to $700 on side dishes and desserts. Donated pies, casseroles, potatoes, gelatin dishes and vegetables dishes are always appreciated, along with monetary donations.

Foster said Dan Bazylak has been a big help raising money with a charity golf outing.

“That’s a great family. They’ve been involved every since Danielle was Miss Crawford County,” said Foster.

Every year Foster also has about 15 to 20 drivers who deliver about 60 meals to shut-ins as far away as the Ohio line.

“We always have drivers who are willing to do that, willing to travel that far,” he said.

“We have people who request certain drivers. They feel comfortable with the person,” he said, mentioning that it’s wonderful that a lot of drivers disappear for an hour or longer because they get to talking to somebody who is alone.

Of course, before the deliveries can be made, the food must be prepared. Foster starts late Tuesday night cooking the turkeys and will come in at 4 a.m. to check them and set up the kitchen for shifts of volunteers who start working Wednesday at 7 a.m.

Foster said he always seems to get enough helpers, but added, “There’s never too many volunteers. Even if they come and sit with somebody who is alone, they do as much good as working in the kitchen.”

He said some young couples who moved to the area for employment come to the dinner because they don’t have family nearby and next year they’re returning to volunteer.

“‘Gee, I’ve never come to anything like this,’ ” Foster said, recalling a conversation with a couple, “ ‘Can we help next year?’ ”

Eric Reinagel can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at ereinagel@meadvilletribune.com

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