Annual free Thanksgiving dinner draws hundreds to Lemasters Community Center

November 24, 2011|By C.J. LOVELACE |
  • The Metcalfe family held its eighth annual free Thanksgiving dinner Thursday at the Lemasters (Pa.) Community Center. From left are Mark Metcalfe, Jayne Metcalfe, Laura Metcalfe, Erica Davis, Mike Davis and newborn Emily Jean Davis. They expected around 900 people for the event, which grows every year.
Photo by C.J. Lovelace

LEMASTERS, Pa. — There was enough turkey there to put everyone into a tryptophan coma for days.

Sixty-one turkeys, 430 pounds of potatoes, 275 pounds of ham, 130 loaves of bread for filling, seven cases of corn and four bushels of apples for homemade applesauce were used for Thursday’s meal at the Lemasters Community Center, plus hundreds of dinner rolls.

That’s quite a hefty amount for a Thanksgiving feast, but it’s become a growing tradition for one Mercersburg, Pa., family since 2004.

After drawing about 90 people that first year, close to 900 turned out Thursday for the eighth annual free Thanksgiving meal hosted by the Metcalfe family at the center.

“This is what we do on Thanksgiving,” Mark Metcalfe said. “There are no criteria for people who want to come. Anybody and everybody are invited.”

Food was served buffet-style by a large group of volunteers inside the community center, which was filling up with local people and families just 20 minutes after the 11 a.m. start time. It ran until 2 p.m.

The idea to start the dinner came from Mark’s wife, Jayne Metcalfe, whose side of the family was from Long Island, N.Y. She brought up the idea almost a decade ago after overhearing a couple of women from their church who said they had nowhere to go for Thanksgiving.

“My uncle moved to upstate New York, and his community just welcomed him with open arms, and we all liked to cook, so he decided to do a Thanksgiving dinner to thank the community,” Jayne Metcalfe said. “He started out with 17 people his first year. His third year, he had over 1,000.”

Their dinner has grown in a similar fashion, starting as a way to thank the community, Mark Metcalfe said. They had to move to the larger community center in Lemasters after the first three years because it outgrew Trinity United Methodist Church in Mercersburg, Pa.

“It’s almost like a social event,” Mark Metcalfe said. “We’ve had older couples that may want to have their kids home for Thanksgiving, but they can’t do it anymore. So they’ve brought their whole family here to eat so they can be together for Thanksgiving.”

Preparations for the event started Saturday with the homemade applesauce. On Thanksgiving eve, the family also holds a “potato-peeling party,” and welcomes people from the community to come in and help get ready for the big day.

For Jayne Metcalfe, it was a busy couple of days, but something she looks forward to each year. She started cooking at about 10:15 a.m. Wednesday before people began showing up that evening to help with prep work, and was back at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day.

“It gets easier every year,” she said while taking a short break with her daughter, Erica Davis, and newborn granddaughter, Emily Jean Davis, in the kitchen of the community center.

In addition to all the meals served at the community center, 144 meals were delivered to folks who could not make it out.

Mark Metcalfe wished to thank everyone who supports the family and the event, including all the devoted volunteers who help make each year’s undertaking a success.

“It’s a really great day,” he said. “It’s something we always look forward to. I know it’s a cliché, but we get as much out of it as we put into it.”

The Herald-Mail Articles