ROCKINGHAM — For the cooks of East Rockingham United Methodist Church, a Thanksgiving meal intended to feed 75 people at the senior center across the street has become a feast that serves 2,500.
No loaves and fishes are involved. Just 40 pre-roasted turkey breasts, 55 pans of dressing (containing 30 pounds of onions), and the good Lord knows how many pounds of yams, collards and cranberry sauce.
“My husband, it was his idea six years ago,” church member Marlene Carpenter said Friday of her husband, Boyce. “So we started it (to feed the folks at the East Rockingham Senior Center), and it’s just gone wild ever since.”
If the project keeps growing exponentially, she said, “we’re going to have to divide it up.”
A handful of women from the church have spent the past week cooking and preparing individually packaged food to make up the 2,500 plates that will be distributed today — deliveries between 8:30 and 11:30 a.m., with eat-ins following until 2 p.m. Churches and other institutions across the county have delivered vouchers to those they think might need a holiday meal.
On Thursday, the cooks chopped 30 pounds of onions and an uncounted number of celery bunches for the dressing they would bake Friday. That was quite a heady accomplishment, until onion choppers Marsha Bruton and Sherry Dawkins made a grocery-store trip for a few necessities.
“We stunk so bad, wouldn’t nobody speak to me,” Bruton said. “Wouldn’t nobody get near me.”
To add insult to injury, when Bruton got home at day’s end, even her husband told her she stank. Holding an arm to her nose Friday, Bruton said she still could smell the onions.
The men of the church have carved the turkey breasts for ease of distribution.
And the women who can’t spend time on their feet cooking have doled out dollops of cranberry sauce into plastic containers.
Little Debbie oatmeal cakes and other desserts are in baskets, too, so meal-makers can go round and round the stations, filling plates or takeout containers.
Early today, volunteers were scheduled to candy uncounted yams and chop bouquets of collards.
Later, church youth groups and others from across the county will deliver meals to those identified by various congregations and school guidance counselors. The women also will parcel out 140 plates for the county’s soup kitchen, and scores for Meals on Wheels and the county’s senior centers.
“A lot of the senior citizens … on Saturday, the grandkids are there with them” at the centers, Carpenter said.
The cost for all of this? Carpenter’s church sets aside $1,000 from fundraising events, but most of the $4,000 for meal preparation comes from donations.
Meal preparation and delivery is, of course, free of cost to the church — volunteers bear the cost of gas spent to deliver meals.
As are the lessons learned: Some people need help, and it’s easy to give.
“People love to come” to deliver meals, Carpenter said. “People love it.”
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673.