Table set for hundreds of guests

Thanksgiving: As Boy Scouts make centerpieces, Shepherd's Staff volunteers prepare a dinner to which the community is invited.

Westminster

November 26, 2003|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

When Lois Giles' family in Indiana decided they wanted to experience a Maryland Thanksgiving, she gladly extended an invitation. But, she said, the 12 of them would not be gathering around her table.

Instead, they would be dining at a school cafeteria in Carroll County with about 400 others.

Shepherd's Staff, a Westminster charity, will hold its 10th annual free Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow. Giles, the organization's secretary, and her family will help serve turkey dinner to the hundreds of guests expected at St. John's Catholic School.

Kathy Brown, director of Shepherd's Staff, extended an open invitation to the community, offering a home-cooked meal to the area's needy and all those who might want to partake of food and fellowship. About 375 accepted the offer last year. "No one should have to be alone on this holiday," she said.

Volunteers will deliver more than 160 meals to the ill and homebound across the county and prepare carry-out dinners for those who would prefer to eat at home.

"My family has no idea what they are getting into," Giles said. "They will be tired by the end of the day."

Sometime tomorrow, after all the guests have left, the extended Giles family will sit down and eat with other volunteers. The days of preparation and hours of cooking and serving will leave most of them with little energy for a formal dinner at home, said Brown.

"We act as if it is the family dinner," she said. "It's not the nice house with linens and china, but after all the work, it's fellowship and food together."

And then: a thorough kitchen and cafeteria cleanup. Ronda Robinson, volunteer coordinator for the dinner, has scouring power available.

"We have two 17-year-old boys who offered to wash pots and pans as long as we promise not to tell their mothers," she said.

Robinson has enlisted about 110 volunteers and is now turning down offers of help. She has six turkey carvers, enough chefs to handle the cooking, which is all done on site, and a rotating staff of table servers.

The dinner is a real community effort, said Brown. Thrivent Financial donated $400 to purchase the turkeys. St. John Roman Catholic Church provided about 100 oversize cans of vegetables, cranberry sauce and sauerkraut. Shepherd's Staff relies on the generosity of the community for the rest - including 20 pounds of butter, 12 dozen eggs and 2,000 feet of plastic wrap.

The utensils are plastic and the dishes are heavy-duty paper, but the flowers are real, thanks to Boy Scout Troop 2007 at St. Benjamin's Lutheran Church in Westminster. As they have done for the past three years, the troop devoted its last meeting before Thanksgiving to creating centerpieces. About 30 boys made colorful arrangements from about 25 hefty bunches of rust, yellow and pale-orange flowers and deep-green ferns.

"We are Boy Scouts and we help other people," said Charlie Diegel, 14, who outdid himself with two centerpieces. "We are not exactly in touch with our feminine sides, but this gives us a chance to get creative and to help make dinner look prettier for people. We want it to look like a home, not a soup kitchen."

Eric Tringali, 12, made one of the fullest arrangements, one which included every color of mum. "I wanted a lot of colors so they could all see the flowers better," he said.

The troop will deliver the centerpieces today and many Scouts will stay to set tables and run errands that Brown delegates to them. "We will make that cafeteria look beautiful for this dinner," said Eric's brother Alex Tringali, 14.

With 10 years' experience, Brown knows what and how much to prepare for a crowd, but even she is surprised at the numbers of home-delivery requests. Last year, volunteers transported meals to 75 homes. As of Monday, Brown had 161 requests for home delivery.

About two dozen 20-pound turkeys and another dozen turkey breasts are to be roasted today. But Brown is fretting about whether she has enough of the main course.

"You can make up for anything else, but you have to have enough turkey," she said. "You can't run out to the store and get more. ... You are never really sure how many will come to dinner. That's the scary thing."

If her estimate of about a pound per diner holds true, she should have leftovers to send home with at least some guests.

"I don't bring anything back," she said. "All leftovers go home with our guests."

Brown said she is praying that the day-before-dinner tradition holds true and that donations arrive at St. John's today. The charity accepts gifts of food and money at the cafeteria from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. The staff needs desserts, especially pies; fresh fruit, particularly apples and oranges; and wrapped candy for children's goody bags.

"We always worry, but it always comes in," said Robinson.

Dinner will be served from noon to 3 p.m. at St. John's School, 45 Monroe St., Westminster. Information: 410- 857-5944.

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