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Centralia’s Friendship Church Thanksgiving meal feeds hundreds

Posted on Tuesday, November 28, 2023 at 6:53 pm

Every year more organized

Sometimes the sound of hundreds of pairs of silverware can be music. For more than 300 people it was, Thanksgiving morning, November 23 at Centralia’s Friendship Place.

“This is wonderful,” first-time visitor Randy Simmons, there with their neighbors, Ken, and Cindy Manola.

Sarah Gehring, left, reaches to ladle gravy on the delivery meals Kaili Gramke will deliver, as Sayelor Conde watches

The Manolas, originally from Colorado and the Simmons were helping introduce them to the 16-year-old Centralia tradition, “the people, the friendship, the fellowship, the service these people are doing.”

As he gestured a ham-tipped fork, volunteers trotted between the 10 tables, he answered the question, “Favorite thing on the menu, ham or turkey?” with “Ham, no,  that right there, the cherry pie. That and just the holiday fellowship, being with your friends and the day to give thanks.”

Catherine Simmons a member of the Centralia Library Board, who also served on the Centralia Board of Aldermen said, “something like this is a blessing to either those who are alone, or who are away from family, or don’t have the means to provide a meal like this for themselves. And be blessed with hospitality, generosity and fellowship.”

Every bite is delicious, it is all awesome,” Cindy Manola said, nodding toward the 10  volunteers dishing out ham, turkey, rolls, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, gravy and greens beans at the serving line.

This year the volunteers, and a dozen others, spent dozens of hours behind the scenes, cooking, cleaning, planning, peeling and paring more than 75 pounds of potatoes 13 hams and 18 turkeys.

As he delivered a pair of Thanksgiving dinners to the paramedics at the Boone Hospital Ambulance barn, Delwynn Duncan discussed what keeps him coming back every Thanksgiving to the setup and delivery of Thanksgiving meals to the residents of Sunset Gardens and to emergency services and law enforcement workers on holiday duty.

“I personally believe this is just a fantastic event,” Duncan said,” promoted by the church to help serve the community. There are so many to serve the community: scripturally, prayerfully, as a first-responder, as just a general citizen who cares about their neighbors. This started out as an effort to serve the community’s homebound that were unable to get out on Thanksgiving and or maybe didn’t have families. To offer this up and give to anyone in the community in need like that, or to those that just want to get out and socialize on the holiday, to me that is one of the greatest gifts we can give.”

As a member of the Centralia Fire Department and a Boone County first responder – Duncan knows a lot of people. “I know people truly appreciate it. People appreciate it, the meal, others understand that not all the community will come because most of those who won’t come have families and friends they can spend the holiday with. To me this is for the elderly, who we have to take care of and the shut-ins and the home-bound. Just to let them know there is someone out there who cares.”

Tracie and Ronnie pulled together a few friends from Friendship Church to start the event 16 years ago. ““We’re always tweaking it every year to see which way to go, Robert said regarding who things seem more organized every year… But sometimes we are still flying by the seat of our pants.”

Volunteers praying before opening the doors to Thanksgiving.

Taking a break from help the team of volunteers who focused on supporting the meal deliveries, she took a moment to talk about it all.

“Thankfulness, gratefulness and seeing how blessed we all are,” Roberts said when asked what she thought about while looking at the packed room, humming with holiday conversation.

The volunteers arrived at 7:30 a.m., she said, with many having set up tables and prepared sweet potatoes along with the turkeys and hams.

“The work that goes on behind the scene,” Traci said when asked what people don’t see about the event. “We had so much help. We prepared 18 turkeys, and 13 hams. There a lot that goes into that, no one person can cook all those. We have people from different homes that bring them. We have a group of men that love to sit around, fellowship and carve all that meat and kind of shoot the breeze. We have a group that peeled 75 pounds of sweet potatoes – they knocked it and chunked them up in about in about an hour. “

The volunteers have figured out ways to get things done more smoothly, she said, as time passes and the number of meals they server grows. The first year we started out with 40 pounds of sweet potatoes and now we’re up to 75. It seems like we’re averaging 325 meals, whether it’s to-go or walling in the door.”

She also meant all the meal prep, such as making stuffing, boiling gallons of noodles, regular potatoes, “and then I do the gravy.”

An important task she learned from the meal’s original gravy chef. “Our helpers is where it all happens. I was very nervous about the gravy, but I had a very good teacher, Judy Stowers. She oversaw the gravy for the first five or six years and I would sit and watch. Since then, probably the last 10 years, I have done the gravy. Somehow it seems to turn out every year, but I’m always a little nervous. A lot of people love gravy and that always seem to be the first thing we run out of. We, Ronnie and I, we can’t do it all and are just really thankful for our church family that step in and help make this happen.”

Traci also said she thought the sweet-potatoes were by far the most popular dish.