First United Methodist Church celebrates 50 years of serving turkey

Helena Rodriguez

Forty roasted turkeys, 24 tubs of dressing, 250 pumpkin pies, 80 gallons of green beans, 500 apples, 100 stalks of celery and 14 gallons of cranberry sauce.
Sounds like enough to feed an army — or about 1,400-plus hungry people expected to attend the 50th annual First United Methodist Church Thanksgiving Dinner and Bazaar on Thursday at the church.
The half-century tradition is considered “the biggest dinner in town,” according to Frankye King, a member of the FUMC Thanksgiving dinner committee. And that’s not just the biggest meal served in town during Thanksgiving. That includes the whole year round, King said.
“It has become quite a social event. It’s a visiting time. Some people who come to the noon meal even come back to the dinner one,” King said and noted that the church serves about the same number of carryout meals as dine-ins.
There are some changes in this annual feast. For one, it will be the first Thanksgiving dinner in the church’s new, adjacent red brick building, which will become FUMC’s permanent home once the historic three-story, yellow brick one facing South Ave C. is demolished, possibly before the end of the year.
Another change: The dinner, always held the second Thursday in November, will see its first price increase in a decade, rising from $6 for an adult plate to $7.
When the annual dinner began in 1953, King said her records show it cost 75 cents a plate, maybe even less, and was served to a crowd of only 50 people.
According to King, it caused a bit of a protest years later when the dinner’s executive committee wanted to raise the price by 50 cents, from 75 cents a plate to $1.25.
“The executive committee only won by one vote,” King said. “Many members didn’t feel anyone would come to the dinner if they raised it by that much.”
Also new to this year’s event is live entertainment. A trio of musicians, Jack and Cleta Carr and Hal Merrick, will perform during the noon meal and possibly during the dinner meal.
Over the past 50 years, King estimates that literally thousands of turkeys have been served and said it’s an event generations of families, as well as the community, looks forward to each year.
The big-scale, culinary production, involves 150 or more FUMC church members, in some way or another, and that includes Dorthy Sparks, who has been a member of the church since the late 1940s, before the annual dinner tradition began.
“This is more or less a community thing that gets people in the mood for Thanksgiving and sort of opens the holiday season,” Sparks said.
This year, Sparks will help out with the bazaar, held in conjunction with the dinner. The bazaar consists of tables of crafts, many ideal for Christmas gifts, that will be on sale.
Sparks is also helping to get all the salad stuff together for the meal. Her biggest job has been getting on the telephone, recruiting a crew of volunteers who will be chopping celery and filling cranberry sauce containers on Wednesday. On Monday and Tuesday, other volunteers will be busy carving turkeys for the big meal.
During the early years of the dinner, King said women would go into farm fields and gather leftover vegetables, such as sweet potatoes and green beans, to can and use for the Thanksgiving feast. Several old pressure cookers and jars from past meals are now retired and sit in the old church basement.
King said the new church building has more space available to serve the Thanksgiving dinner and she likes the fact that many of the elderly and disabled will not have to climb any steps.
Money from the Thanksgiving dinner will go to support global as well as local missions through FUMC.