HURRICANE — Chances are that when you prepare your Thanksgiving Day meal tomorrow, you won’t be peeling 300 potatoes, carving 400 pounds of turkey, or serving 500 people.
But that is exactly what volunteers at the Community Thanksgiving Day Dinner will be doing. And they’ve been doing it faithfully for 31 years.
The Presbyterian Church of the Covenant will host tomorrow’s dinner at the Valley Park Conference Center from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The meal will be a traditional Thanksgiving meal: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, roll, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. And it is provided at absolutely no charge.
The Rev. Rob Laukoter, a Texas native and the pastor of PCC for the past 20 years, says the dinner is a tangible expression of the meaning of Thanksgiving.
“The more you experience love from someone, the more you naturally want to return that love. I find that’s true for me as I come to know God’s love more and more.”
The roots of the community dinner go back to a Sunday School class in which parishioners of PCC studied and tried to exemplify the principles of Luke 14:12-14.
“Jesus teaches us that when we host a dinner, we shouldn’t invite those who can pay us back. Instead, we should invite those who can’t pay us back. The biblical principle,” Laukoter summarizes, “is that we should give freely to others, not so that we get things in return.”
The only thing that volunteers have ever received in return for the free meal they serve each year is heartfelt thank yous — some written and others verbal.
That is more than enough for those who have chosen to give their time to volunteer. In fact, some volunteers have made this part of their own Thanksgiving tradition each year. While many of the volunteers are members of Presbyterian Church of the Covenant, other community members usually join in as well.
“I love that it’s a group project. We always need volunteers, and we always get lots of help from other folks in the community,” Laukoter said. “Other churches in the community support our efforts beautifully. It’s a joy to serve together.”
Undoubtedly, offering an entire community a free Thanksgiving meal requires a ton of planning.
“We start planning in September,” Laukoter said. “Our planning team usually involves seven to eight people, and different folks take on all aspects of putting the dinner together: promoting the dinner, ordering all the food and supplies, taking dinner orders, and coordinating volunteers, kitchen needs, clean-up crews, and deliveries.”
Yes, a Thanksgiving Day dinner can even be delivered to your door (if you live in Hurricane or the surrounding area). All for free, all part of that Luke 14 principle.
Of the 500 meals that will be served, community members can also come in to dine at the conference center or pick up a meal. The volunteers will be ready.
After a few months of planning, they will gather Wednesday evening to begin food preparation. That’s where the 300 pounds of potatoes and 400 pounds of turkey come in.
On Thanksgiving morning, the work will continue with making gravy, mashing potatoes, cooking green beans and cutting pies.
“When all the food is prepared,” Laukoter said, “we form two assembly lines to fill the food trays for all the delivery and pick-up meals.”
After 31 years, the Community Thanksgiving Day Dinner runs like a well-oiled machine. But to Laukoter and those who join him in preparing and serving it, it is far from mechanical or machine-like.
“It’s an opportunity,” Laukoter says, “an opportunity to bless others in the same way God has blessed us.”
For those interested in ordering a Thanksgiving meal, call 304-562-6419. Orders can be made through Wednesday, Nov. 27. Anyone interested in volunteering should call 304-610-3054.