By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
Raymond Schmeltz scraped the last bit of pumpkin filling off the pie crust.
“I don’t like the crust,” he explained.
He closed his eyes and smiled – completely content after filling up on the Thanksgiving feast.
“They do a wonderful job with all of this,” Schmeltz said.
That’s probably because the volunteers from Christ’s Church in Bowling Green have been serving up the Community Thanksgiving Feast a couple days before the holiday for 27 years.
They have the meal preparations and serving working like an assembly line. The meal features the traditional turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, rolls and dessert.
Renee Baker has been volunteering at the annual feast for its 27-year history.
She knows just how important the meal is for the community.
“We had a line out the door already at 2:30 p.m.,” and the meal wasn’t scheduled to start until 3 p.m., she said on Tuesday as she took a brief break in the kitchen of the Bowling Green community center.
About 50 volunteers worked to prepare the meal with all the trimmings, and another 40 served it up.
The church members were prepared for up to 600 diners over the four-hour meal this year – roasting 30 turkeys for the feast.
“That’s five more this year than last year,” since they came close to running out last year, Baker said.
To complete the meal, more than 50 desserts were also prepared – with the pecan pie proving to be the most popular.
Many who come to the feast are in need and this will be their only Thanksgiving dinner this year. But for others, Tuesday was just the first round of big dinners this week.
And that’s just fine with Christ’s Church members.
“Absolutely anyone is welcome,” Baker said.
Making a feast for so many can be exhausting, but Baker and the other volunteers would have it no other way.
“We love serving,” she said. “A lot of people don’t have an opportunity to have a good Thanksgiving meal with all the fixings.”
To many eating the turkey and dressing, it’s about far more than the food.
“It’s helping the community. It gets everybody together in the community. I see all my friends from school,” said Sharon Bechstein as she took a break from working and ate dinner herself.
Her favorite part? “All of it. That’s my downfall,” she said.
A few tables over, Marcelle Hahn, of Bowling Green, was taking a breather in between her meal and her pecan pie.
“It’s delicious. It’s very filling, very good,” she said, picking the mashed potatoes as the best part of the dinner.
But Hahn also recognized the feast as far more than a meal.
“It’s one more thing to bring the community together,” she said.
At another table, church volunteer Jeff Bechstein was gabbing with Art Groff – a friend he often catches up with at the Thanksgiving feast.
“I enjoy seeing people I don’t see normally,” Bechstein said. “We reach out in the community. We enjoy it.”
Groff agreed, but added that he also enjoys the turkey and trimmings. He will have another Thanksgiving this weekend with his daughters – but he’s not quite sure what will be on that menu.
“One year they showed up with lasagna,” Groff said. “I like the traditional turkey.”
But there are some – like those in the community center kitchen – who will be plenty tired of turkey after the feast and family dinners.
“I’ll be done with turkey by the end of the week,” Baker said with a grin.