What began as a way for Mark and Jayne Metcalfe of Mercersburg, Pa., to give back to the community has grown into one of the largest, free Thanksgiving Day dinners in the area.
“It’s a way to give back to the community. There’s a need with the economy the way it is. Plus we have a family that comes every year with 24 in their family. They have no houses big enough where they can gather for Thanksgiving dinner so they come here,” Jayne Metcalfe said Thursday.
“And I don’t like to eat alone, so my family has grown to 1,000,” she said with a chuckle.
On Thursday, the Metcalfe family held its ninth annual Thanksgiving dinner at Lemasters Community Center, serving 1,177 people, making it the largest dinner so far.
To prepare for the over-the-top Thanksgiving feast, Metcalfe has a grocery list that includes 69 turkeys, 300 pounds of ham, 450 pounds of mashed potatoes, about 160 loaves of bread and 40 gallons of broth for gravy.
Even before the community center doors opened at 10:45 a.m., 429 takeout orders were filled for residents living in the Tuscarora School District who were not physically able to attend the meal.
Several hundred people, including Carolyn Bivens of Mercersburg and her friend, Paul Custer, of St. Thomas, stood in line waiting for the meal, which was served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Bivens and Custer have been regulars at the Metcalfe’s dinner for about five years.
“My family goes elsewhere. So, we’ve been coming here,” Bivens said. “The food is delicious and we have a nice time.”
Wayne and Mary Heinbaugh of Chambersburg, Pa., and Heinbaugh’s brother-in-law, Ivan Scott, and members of his family attended the meal.
With her family scattered across the country, Mary Heinbaugh said she appreciates the Metcalfe’s hospitality.
“I think it’s wonderful. The people who don’t have a family to go to or for those people who are too old to get things ready, this is wonderful,” she said.
Preparing a Thanksgiving dinner is time-consuming, Heinbaugh said.
“It’s a lot of work. I used to do it all the time for my kids,” she said.
The meal consisted of turkey, stuffing, ham, gravy, mashed potatoes and dessert.
“It’s nice and hot, and it’s very good,” Heinbaugh said.
While she’s reluctant to call herself the “chief cook,” Joyce Cook of Lemasters has been cooking by Metcalfe’s side since the beginning.
“I love reaching out to the community. I think it’s just an awesome opportunity to do that,” Cook said while stirring a pot of gravy.
She arrived at 7 a.m. to help Metcalfe cook the feast.
Cook thinks people should be together on Thanksgiving.
“I feel it’s very important for us to be thankful and come together and fellowship with one another (on Thanksgiving),” she said.
As the dishwasher, Tom Riford of Mercersburg has been happily getting dishpan hands for the cause since the first year the Metcalfes hosted the community meal.
The Thanksgiving dinner serves up not only a delicious meal but fellowship, Riford said.
“Thanksgiving is a day for family and friends giving thanks for what we have. I think all of us want to spend time with our loved ones and family,” Riford said. “But, we realize there are a lot of people who would like to have a great meal and might not have family and friends nearby.”
There are so many people involved in the event, he said.
“They bring pies, volunteer their time and donate money, because everybody realizes this is a good thing to be involved with,” Riford said.
The event began in the basement of the family’s church, Trinity United Church of Christ in Mercersburg, in 2004 with 92 people, Metcalfe said.
The number of people attending rose to 332 by the third year, she said.
With the family running out of space in the church, the dinner moved to the Lemasters Community Center in 2007.
Metcalfe said the idea for holding the dinner came from a comment made by an older woman at her church and a memory of her uncle hosting a Thanksgiving Day dinner.
Since her uncle hosted a large community Thanksgiving Day dinner in upstate New York, Metcalfe thought she might be up for the challenge.
When she heard an older woman, Amelia, commenting to a younger lady in church that she was staying home on Thanksgiving because no one invited her, Metcalfe sprang into action with her first community meal in 2004.
“She (Amelia) passed away just after last Thanksgiving,” Metcalfe said. “Over the years, she peeled potatoes, baked cakes and ate with us. This year’s dinner is dedicated to her memory.”