Financing firefighters by feeding the hungry Breakfasts serve community need

February 09, 1997|By Jean Marie Beall | Jean Marie Beall,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

In Westminster, they start at 3 a.m. An ungodly hour for most, especially on a Saturday. And Winfield and New Windsor aren't much easier, peeling the first potato at 4 a.m.

That's how early volunteers at Carroll County fire halls begin preparing what might be the world's best breakfasts.

With traditional menus that include hominy and pudding, sausage, sausage gravy, scrambled eggs, pancakes, potatoes, spiced apples and huge country biscuits, it's easy to forget that this is all about serious fund raising.

"It's really a cold-weather thing," said Catherine Grabille, president of the New Windsor Fire Department's Ladies Auxiliary.

Most of the fire hall breakfasts have been going on for a decade or more and began out of need.

"We were looking at ways to raise money to offset our expenses," said Robert P. Cumberland, first vice president of Westminster Fire Engine Hose Company No. 1. "We had hosted dinners in the past, and this was an extension of that."

Other volunteer companies also needed to raise money year-round to offset rising costs, especially for equipment.

"We're looking for a new firetruck," said Dick Baker, who is in charge of the breakfasts at Winfield Community Volunteer Fire Department. "That will cost between $300,000 and $400,000."

Baker said the company was looking at ways to raise more money and took note of the success of fire hall breakfasts.

"I'm a charter member of the company, and when I was president, we went around and were impressed with what we saw [of the fire hall breakfasts]. Everybody wanted to do it."

Grabille was equally candid about what motivates her and the other volunteers, besides her dedication to the community.

"Money," she said. "We're trying to get ahead and build a new fire hall. And the county is putting in a new communications system, and we're going to have to buy new radios. The equipment is so expensive."

Turnout for the early morning meals varies. Westminster

averages 275 to 350 customers, New Windsor often draws 500, and Winfield's volunteers frequently feed 500 to 600 on a Saturday morning.

Winfield volunteers clear between $800 and $1,000 each breakfast, Baker said.

"The kitchen crew starts around 4 a.m., and that's 10 people," Baker said. "My wife, Yvonne, also takes care of getting the hall set, and she also has about 10 to 12 volunteers. We have two guys who take care of the sausage. It's a nice operation. Everybody has a role, and they know what to do."

The fire companies coordinate with each other to make sure there are no scheduling conflicts or competing breakfasts, which is why you can find one somewhere in Carroll just about every weekend during the fall and winter.

New Windsor puts on its breakfasts the first Sunday of each month starting in October. Union Bridge has staked out the second Sunday of the month, and Winfield Community Volunteer Fire Department claims the last Sunday, three times a year, in October, November and April.

At the Westminster fire hall, the breakfast is the third Saturday of each month September through May.

Last week was New Windsor's turn. A sleepy crew began arriving about 5 a.m.

"We come in and start the hominy, pudding and sausage gravy," said George "Bud" Petry, who runs the kitchen "operation."

By operation, Petry means peeling roughly 200 pounds of potatoes, enough to make any private pulling KP duty in an Army kitchen cringe. Then, 400 pounds of sausage, four cases of eggs and three cases of apples have to be prepared.

Petry said that once the workers are set up, they prepare food in batches so everything is served fresh.

Westminster volunteers operate similarly, said Cumberland.

"We don't fix large portions at one time but small portions. We have some people who have been in the Army and learned the recipes through their service."

Last week, New Windsor was packing them in.

Bob Wisner of New Windsor said he has attended the breakfasts for years.

"I come to support the local fire company. All the food is good, especially the sausage. I go to Union Bridge's breakfast and Libertytown as well."

Often, the same folks attend the community event. The Devilbisses of New Windsor say they're regulars.

"We go every time they have one," said Roger Devilbiss, as he worked on a large platter of food.

Said Kitty Devilbiss: "It gives us a chance to see everybody we know. That's one of the reasons we come. And he likes to eat. We've been coming about 10 years."

A young couple sitting at one of the long tables said it was their first time there.

"We saw an ad in the paper," said Joan Getker of Westminster, who was joined by her husband, Peter, and two children, 23-month-old Tristan and 5-month-old Annika.

"This reminds me of where I grew up, in a small village in Germany called Cismar," said Peter. "We had breakfasts like these."

Resetting tables and making sure people had orange juice and coffee was New Windsor Mayor Jack A. Gullo Jr.

"I'm a fireman, so I come occasionally to volunteer," said Gullo. "I pitch in where I can. I don't do as much as other people, but I try to help out.

"As you can see," he laughed, "they haven't given me one of the more complicated tasks."

Pub Date: 2/09/97

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