Thanksgiving meal set to feed an army

Trip Triplitt, right, unloads several boxes of food for the 2015 community Thanksgiving meal at Salem United Methodist Church in Newton. At left is Jan Swickard. Wendy Nugent/File photo

By Wendy Nugent, Newton Now

By the numbers, it appears the Community Thanksgiving meal will have enough food to feed about a fourth of the population of Hesston, maybe more.

There will be 25 turkeys, 80 pies, 18 hams and 30 cakes, to name some of the food, said Jan Swickard, one of the event organizers.

Members of participating churches will bring in the pies, she said.

“Other food is ordered in and will be fixed that day,” she said.

They’ll also use 80 boxes of Jell-O and fruit cocktail, which will be mixed on Tuesday for Jell-O salad. On Monday, Swickard said a variety of food was to be delivered on Tuesday, including green beans, corn, cranberry salad, dressing and potatoes.

“We have a restaurant in town that furnishes all the dinner rolls,” Swickard said, adding another place supplies the plasticware and another spot in town supplies butter and honey.

The remainder of supplies is purchased with financial donations from the involved churches, such as napkins and plates.

“The meal is free,” said Bob Swickard, another event organizer.

“To come and eat, it’s free,” Swickard added, saying anyone can donate if they wish, and that money goes toward Harvest of Love, a local food drive.

Last year, $2,000 was raised, which was one of the highest numbers they’ve had.

This year’s meal will be from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 23, at Grace Community Church, 1600 S. Anderson in Newton. Those who wish to have meals delivered can call 316-283-2554 after 10 a.m. on Thanksgiving. There’s also dine-in and carryout options. The meal is for anyone; there are no income requirements.

In addition, anyone who wishes to volunteer can show up at 11 a.m. that day at the church.

“We have a family that is not on the planning committee that has participated for the past 19 or 20 years,” Swickard said, adding they started when the kids were around 5 and 6 years old, and now that the kids are grown, they still participate.

She said the son lives out of state and is coming back this Thanksgiving to help out.

“Kids grew up doing this, and he comes back,” Swickard said.

The Swickards good-naturedly said the family basically takes over the kitchen.

“I just find that inspiring,” Swickard said. “They just show up and work their tails off.”

This year, Swickard said the mom can’t make it, but the dad and kids will be there.

“I stay out of the way,” Bob said, jokingly. “It’s a pretty good project because we get so much help. It makes it easier for everyone because we get so much the day of.”

He said one man called him up and said he wanted to cook a turkey for the event. The day of, at the meal site, volunteer work might include washing dishes, serving, doing name tags or cutting pies.

“A guy who lives in Kansas City comes to help with the dinner every year,” Bob said, adding the man’s mom lives in Newton, and he assists with carryouts every year.

They also could use people at 1:30 p.m. to help clean up.

During the years, the event has grown from about 200 served to around 1,000, and First Baptist Church had the meal the first year or two.

This year, they plan to run two kitchens at Grace—one for the dine-in meal and another for carryout. The small kitchen will be for carryout.

Swickard said people are grateful for the meal.

“Constantly,” she said. “This is for everyone. This is just an opportunity for people to come and eat with other people.”

This includes folks who don’t have families around and anyone else.

Swickard said that, last year, she helped with carryout, and there was a grandma and granddaughter getting a couple of plates of food to go. The little girl asked her grandma if they could get more food, and the grandma said they were just getting one plate each. Swickard said she could tell there wasn’t much food in the house.

“It touches the heart of those working,” Swickard said.

Also, when volunteers deliver food, sometimes they can tell folks they deliver to really need food and tell them if there are any leftovers from the meal they can go pick them up or the volunteers offer to deliver those.

In keeping with giving, the following churches are involved in the meal: First Baptist Church, Salem United Methodist Church, Trinity Heights United Methodist Church, Grace Community Church, Newton Christian Church and First Church of God.