The annual Thanksgiving Day meal at Findlay’s StoneBridge Church is a collective community effort, made possible by over 300 volunteers. (File photo by Kevin Bean)

By BRENNA GRITEMAN

LIFE EDITOR

Three hundred volunteers, 75 turkeys, 95 cans of green beans and 1,500 dinner plates equal one massive community meal fit for up to 2,500 hungry Thanksgiving diners.

The numbers are enough to make anyone’s head spin, but StoneBridge Church committee members have the planning down to a sort of science. The process is also helped along by good, old-fashioned math.

“Some of it is just a simple math equation,” says Stephanie Schack, children’s director at StoneBridge and a member of the Thanksgiving dinner committee. If you’re looking to prepare 2,000 servings of stuffing, for instance, you can whip out your calculator to determine just how much butter you’ll need to get the job done. (Last year, all told, the meal required 240 1-pound blocks of butter.)

Planning is also determined based on the particular donations that come in each year. Basic menu items like turkey, green beans, potatoes and stuffing are non-negotiables, but other food items can change based on community giving.

Schack says the committee started holding early planning sessions in the spring, and members have met monthly since summer. Past dinners have served an average of 2,000 plates — “give or take a few” — but the committee is prepared to serve 2,400 to 2,500.

Over 300 volunteers help pull off this lofty effort and make the whole thing look easy. Volunteers come from within the church and from neighboring congregations, area high schools, service clubs, businesses and private homes.

Volunteer opportunities begin Monday and continue through Thursday evening with cleanup. In those four days, volunteers prepare 75 turkeys and 89 cans of yams; mix up 19 5-gallon jugs of lemonade mix; and shuffle 1,500 dinner plates, 1,800 to-go containers and 4,000 napkins (among many, many more things).

Schack says that while the shopping list does add up — the cost of 1,280 pounds of turkey is estimated at about $1,835, and desserts alone cost about $1,500 — much of the food is donated. Financial donations pour in from local families and businesses, and the meal is and always will be free to attend.

Past Thanksgiving Day dinners have served an average of 2,000 plates, but the planning committee is prepared to serve up to 2,500. (File photo by Kevin Bean)

While StoneBridge hosts the event, Schack says it is a community meal in every sense of the word.

“Sure, we house it here … but it is truly a community effort. StoneBridge could not put this on by ourselves,” she says. “This is by all means the community’s meal. We’re just proud to host it.”

The true history of the dinner is a bit of an urban legend, Schack says. Most agree that it’s been housed at the church for about 15 years, and many suggest the community meal originated at Red Lobster. People started gathering at the restaurant instead of cooking their own Thanksgiving meal, and soon outgrew the space. The meal then moved to another church before settling at the larger StoneBridge.

In keeping with the event’s origins, the meal remains open to the general public. Attendees need not be a member of the church or have a financial need for a free dinner. Diners can come simply because they want to keep their own kitchen tidy, or because they’re looking for some good company.

“No matter the reason … come be with us. We’ll be your family for the day,” Schack says.

Serving is from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28. Dine-in and drive-thru are both available. The church is at 2111 Stonehedge Drive on Findlay’s east side.

Delivery is available within city limits and must be requested by noon Nov. 26. Call 419-422-6869 to request delivery.

Visit stonebridgechurch.org/events/thanksgiving to sign up as a volunteer, to make a donation or for delivery.

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