Feeding a deep sense of civic duty

Carroll town serves breakfast to pay for its new town hall

February 21, 2000|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

More than eight years after the small town of Union Bridge launched a series of breakfasts to help pay for its new town hall, the Sunday morning event and its loyal volunteers are still going strong -- with crowds increasing and about one-third of the $200,000 mortgage paid off.

Beginning at sunrise, people travel from as far as Pennsylvania and Baltimore for bacon and eggs cooked to order, chipped beef gravy, fried potatoes, pancakes, biscuits and fruit salad in a $4.50 all-you-can-eat buffet.

"I believe it's going to be the biggest yet," Jane Davis of Union Bridge said yesterday as she surveyed the crowd from babies to folks in their 80s, dressed in everything from suits to sweats. Davis, who has volunteered at the breakfasts for four years, serves as chief cook and overseer.

"They like our fried potatoes and chipped beef gravy," Davis said.

Customers were lined up at the door of the Union Bridge Community Center through most of yesterday morning, almost until the breakfast ended at noon.

Crowds are bigger than ever, with a record 467 diners last month, said Councilwoman Kathleen D. Kreimer, 54, who heads the Town Hall Funding Committee.

"We bought a couple more frying pans. Now we're up to 16," she said. The crowds are nearing the center's 218-seat capacity.

"We can't handle too many more people. We can't add too many more frying pans. There's no more oven space," she said. Parking also overflows the lot, with cars lined up and down Ladiesburg Road.

The $200,000 loan for the Town Hall has been paid down to $138,500, said Kreimer, who at last month's council meeting presented a check for $6,129.84, the proceeds from the breakfasts of 1999. The mortgage payment on the building is $1,129.84.

To cover that payment, the town uses proceeds from its annual Fall Fest, has held a couple of spaghetti dinners, and sells Tupperware, quilts and limited-edition prints of Union Bridge scenes -- anything to avoid raising taxes to pay for the 1993 building, Kreimer said. But the breakfasts -- which are held about seven times a year -- have been the steadiest source of income, she said. Lately, the event has been clearing about $1,000 each time it is held.

Preparations for the breakfast began Saturday at midnight when Mayor Perry L. Jones Jr. arrived at the center to begin frying bacon, as he does before every breakfast. He stayed in the kitchen until noon, shuttling the large trays in and out of the oven, looking tired but happy.

"If I stop, I'll fall asleep," Jones said.

Elected mayor in May 1991, he said the first breakfast was held in the fall of that year.

"We wanted to build a new town office, and we didn't have any way to pay for it," he said, so the fund raising began. "It was part of my idea as mayor that we needed a new town office, and I'm not going to leave them hanging now."

Other volunteers include Town Council members, senior citizens and teens performing community service. They begin arriving at 3: 30 a.m., Kreimer said.

"I used to live here, so I just kept on," said Dick Owings, 52, who now lives in Littlestown, Pa., but has never missed working a breakfast. "When we first started building the office building, I was involved in it -- and I hate to drop something. We have a lot of fun, and they need the help."

Armatha Crushong, 78, came in at 3: 30 a.m. Sunday to prepare fresh fruit with her friend Sandy Phelps, 53, of Union Bridge.

"It's a wonderful job," Crushong said. "I keep saying I'm going to quit and they say I can't. I haven't missed one yet. I live alone and I like to get out and be out."

Phelps shared Crushong's enthusiasm.

"I like working with Armatha and working with people. I like to talk to people," she said as Crushong hugged her and joked, "We like to run our mouths, and this way we can do it."

Town Council President Donald D. Wilson tended to the coffee and orange juice, circulating around the room making sure that pitchers and cups were full. Helping him were several teen-age volunteers from Bowling Brook Preparatory Academy in nearby Middleburg, along with Bowling Brook teacher and counselor Darren Meyers.

Wilson said some of the volunteers have been long-time helpers, but said that "when one fades, it seems another takes their place."

"I've been volunteering a long time, since it opened," said Susanna Black, 81, who had helped to make her popular chipped beef gravy, then served pancakes.

"We cracked over 13 dozen eggs since 7," said Beth Mackey, 14, of Westminster, who was earning community service credits with her friend Brianna Griffin, also 14. "It's fun, but it makes you tired."

Jo Israelson, a 49-year-old artist now living in Union Bridge, was there as a patron but used to be the dishwasher, until the organizers switched to disposable plates and cups in response to the growing size of the crowd.

"I think this is one of the best examples of community spirit, community pride," she said. "There's very few opportunities for a community to work together for a single goal, and the people who work on this committee are really committed. They give up their weekends, they give up sleep. It's a nice cross section of the community, too."

Yesterday's paying customers numbered 448, said Calvin Hoy, 72, of Union Bridge, who manned the door and counted the proceeds. He's been volunteering at the breakfast for about three years.

"We're getting good publicity somewhere," said his wife, Arlene Hoy, 74, seated at the bake table with Patsy Eyler, 51, of Union Bridge.

"For one thing, it keeps down taxes to pay off the town hall debt," said Eyler of her service for the past two years. "We keep working like this, it benefits everyone."

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