Meadville Tribune

Local News

November 28, 2013

Hundreds fed at free, open-to-the-public Thanksgiving meal

MEADVILLE — “It warms your heart and makes you feel good about the holidays,” Charyn Parsons said Thursday afternoon. “It’s  better than shopping.”

The heart-warming event of which the Meadville resident fondly spoke was the annual Thanksgiving dinner organized for more than three decades by Meadville resident Bill Foster at the Family & Community Christian Association. Parsons was about half-way through her third stint as a volunteer. This time around, her duties centered around preparing and delivering orders placed by phone.

Nancy Holler, a seven-year volunteer from Conneautville, ordinarily helps cuts the pies before joining the line of volunteers who fill the individual delivery cartons with turkey dinners with all the trimmings. “I usually go through the line four or five times,” Holler said with a slightly tired smile. “We went through nine or 10 times today.”

That, according to Foster, is because the number of delivered meals totaled almost 300 — exceeding the previous record by about 100.

The increase was apparently a result of word spreading about the availability of delivery service. “We had more big orders this year,” he explained, noting that approximately 100 meals were delivered to two downtown locations — Holland Towers and Parkside Commons — whose residents have not previously placed orders in significant numbers. Another 20 were delivered to a housing project in Conneautville. About 200 were fed in person at the F&CCA.

The added number of take-out orders wasn’t the only challenge Foster and his battalion of volunteers faced Thursday morning. Since last year’s dinners, F&CCA has converted the conference room that had long served as the staging area for orders awaiting delivery into an office complete with desks and lots of equipment. With that space no longer available, all the deliveries had to be out the door before the buffet stretching the full width of the dining room could be put into place for those who had come to eat in person.

While adapting to the change resulted in a delay of approximately half an hour, Foster was confident that the annual Christmas dinner would begin serving promptly at noon. “We’re pretty innovative,” he said. “We go with the flow.”

While Foster wasn’t worried about the food supply holding out, he admitted he was kind of wishing that the record number of turkeys cooked — 28 — had been upped to 32, just to make sure there were plenty of leftovers for folks to take home. In addition to turkeys donated by Malady’s Meat Market and Ainsworth Pet Nutrition, birds were also donated by individuals.

“For Christmas, we need ham,” Foster said, making a blatant plug for donations for his annual Christmas Dinner in the same location on Dec. 25. “I’m tired of turkey.”

Ainsworth’s donation included multiple hams for Christmas, “but we’ll have to supplement them because the way the deliveries are, there’s no way there’ll be enough,” Foster said, noting that hams may be dropped off at FCV, 378 Chestnut St., during normal business hours starting immediately.

“We also accept money,” Foster added. “There are always a lot of things we need to buy.” The list includes paper products, things for the kitchen and a number of things people don’t ordinarily donate.

“This year it cost about $800,” Foster said of the event that is both free and completely open to the public. The idea that has guided him for 37 years is that no one should have to eat their holiday dinners alone.

“We have to supplement the food donations somehow, but we don’t ask for cash donations at the dinners because a lot of people can’t afford it,” Foster explained. “I don’t like to put people on the spot — I know how I would feel.”

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