Family, volunteers open doors to community on Thansgiving

November 25, 2005|by BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - Guests at the community Thanksgiving dinner organized by the Mark and Jane Metcalfe family could smell the food from the parking lot.

"You'll have a good dinner in there," a departing guest told newcomers.

Anyone who wanted a Thanksgiving meal was invited to the Trinity United Church of Christ in Mercersburg Thursday.

While her family attends worship there, Jane Metcalfe stressed that the dinner is not church-related. "We're not out recruiting," she said. "My kitchen table is too small or I'd have it at the house."

The Metcalfes, of Lemasters, Pa., fed 88 last year, their first year for the event, and about 190 this year.

Jane Metcalfe, 44, cooked 100 pounds of ham at home. Fifteen turkeys were roasted in ovens "all over Franklin County," she said, while taking a break from the kitchen. She made eight mincemeat pies; other desserts were donated.


She lost count of how many people helped to prepare food. "Probably 20 or 25," she said. The group delivered 48 meals to local shut-ins.

Daughter Erica, 18, helped with various duties, from bussing tables to refilling serving dishes. Laura, 8, entertained children in the nursery.

"It's just nice on Thanksgiving, knowing I can do something," Erica said. "The helpers have turned into my family. We're stepping over each other, but we still love each other."

Mark Metcalfe, 50, who resembles Santa Claus, leaves the cooking to others, but stood at the door to greet guests as they arrived.

The family's motivation was simply to give back to the community, Jane Metcalfe said, adding that she was inspired by her uncle's experience. When he moved to an upstate New York community many years ago, he was welcomed there and held a Thanksgiving meal to thank the community. Seventeen people attended.

"In three years, his church had to take it over, because there were 1,000 people attending," she said.

"Nobody should eat alone on Thanksgiving," she added. "That was the trigger for me," knowing that some people are alone on the holiday.

Three helpers sat in a room behind the kitchen peeling potatoes. "This is the most fun I've had all day," Tom Riford, chairman of the church's board of deacons, said. "This is a step up from washing dishes."

Linda Witter of Mercersburg teased ninth-grader Alex McCarl, "How big was that potato when you started?"

A huge kettle of turkey gravy simmered on the stove, along with pots of corn and mashed potatoes.

Attendees ranged from friends of the family, to those who would be alone, to those who "get scared when faced with the prospect of cooking a big dinner," Metcalfe said.

"Don't bother cooking, it's here," Metcalfe tells people. "And if they want leftovers, we'll send some home with them. There's nothing better than a cold turkey sandwich with mayonnaise on it tonight."

The Metcalfes' neighbor, Joyce Cook, is "chief cooker and bottle washer," Jane Metcalfe said. "We're both originally from Path Valley. We think alike.

We're used to fixing big dinners for churches and fire halls. I don't have to worry as long as she's in the kitchen."

Other helpers were new friends.

Kathy Myers of Chambersburg, Pa., brought son Zach, 16, and niece Shelby Harmon, 12, to help with the event. "I heard they did this, and called to see if they could use any extra help," Kathy Myers said.

Seventy-one people could be seated at once in the homey-looking room. The tables were nicely decorated, and live piano music was provided by Chris Metcalfe, a sister-in-law.

Rev. Don Stevenson of Christ Reformed United Church of Christ in Hagerstown brought his wife, Deborah, and in-laws and cousins to the dinner. "I know the Metcalfes and they're wonderful people," he said after finishing the meal. "And I knew she was a powerful cook."

"What better place to donate money," Bobbi Schroyer of State Line, Pa., added.

While the dinner was free, many diners left donations.

Rolf Eepre of Chambersburg said he attended because, "I don't have my kids this weekend, so I came here."

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