Four days before Thanksgiving, Shepherd's Staff, a Westminster-based ecumenical ministry, finds itself short on ingredients for its traditional holiday dinner served to about 350 of Carroll County's neediest residents.
Kathy Brown, Shepherd's Staff director, has about 500 pounds of soon-to-be-roasted turkeys, but her list of side dishes, desserts, condiments and paper products is far from filled. She is counting off what she needs by Wednesday evening, confident it will all arrive before preparation begins.
"I just ask for donations to be dropped off and then I pray," said Brown. "Every year it happens, but it takes angels."
She has ample quantities of bread cubes, but not the 10 pounds of celery, 15 pounds of onions, and salt, pepper and sage that go into stuffing. As yet, she has no flour, sugar, coffee, tea or lemonade mix.
Volunteers also fill take-home gift bags with apples, oranges, wrapped candy, boxed raisins and other snacks and sweets. Not a bag is filled, because those donations have not arrived.
"Anything anybody wants to donate will be a help," said Edna Hooper, who has coordinated the dinner for four years. "I am confident we will get everything we need."
This year marks the eighth Thanksgiving dinner that the charity has served in the cafeteria of St. John Catholic School in Westminster.
Some organizations are rallying around the event, filling other needs.
St. John donates its space as well as apple and cranberry sauce and vegetables - including 300 pounds of mashed potatoes, and copious cans of green beans, corn and sauerkraut.
Glen Meadows Retirement Community in Baltimore County has offered the use of its commercial ovens for turkey roasting, and Glen Meadows staff members have volunteered to deliver the main course to St. John.
Culinary students from the Career and Technology Center will be baking about 30 pies. Many churches have promised homemade desserts. Domino's Pizza is lending warmers to volunteers who will make home deliveries to shut-ins. An orchard has given freshly picked apples, a convenience store has pledged dinner rolls, and another business has lent aprons and gloves for cooks and servers.
Scouts and school groups have made colorful place mats and a decorating crew is preparing to make the school cafeteria festive.
"Wednesday night we decorate," said Brown. "I want this to look like a party, not a soup kitchen."
Volunteers will start cooking about 8 a.m. Thursday, with the first dinner served at noon. Guests usually arrive about 10 a.m., ready for a cup of coffee and a bit of socializing, said Hooper. Many stay until the tables are cleared.
"We treat everybody with respect, like they are our guests," she said. "This is not a soup kitchen. This is Thanksgiving dinner. Our diners are not just the homeless. Many of them are lonely and just want company."
Typically, more than 300 plates are filled and refilled, but crowds grow larger each year.
"Some of our guests ask for carry-out meals," Brown said. "We want to have that for them."
Hooper said she has more volunteers than she has assignments. But she understands the motivation.
"Anybody can sit down at a table and eat a full meal and then fall asleep watching football," she said. "But not everyone has this chance to give back to their community. We have volunteers coming from all over and many are bringing their children."
Brown attributes the drop in donations to a communications problem. She became so involved with the 10th-anniversary celebration for Shepherd's Staff, held at Martin's Westminster on Monday, that she had little time to publicize the dinner. She is working at full speed on it now, certain the servings Thursday will be plentiful.
"So many people want to do something, but we have not gotten the word out to them," Brown said.
Donors can drop off goods from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday at St. John's cafeteria, 45 Monroe St., where dinner will be served from noon to 3 p.m. Thursday. Shepherd's Staff will accept donations Monday and Tuesday at its headquarters, 30 Carroll St. Information: 410-857-5944.