Howard church ladies find joy in preparing Thanksgiving dinner

LANA MUTHLER/THE EXPRESS Patti Long scoops a spoonful of stuffing as she prepares a turkey meal to go.

HOWARD — They know how to cook a delicious turkey dinner with all the trimmings.

They know how to share their love of giving with others in need of some joy at this holiday time of the year.

And they have faith that God is watching over them every step of the way as they prepare a Thanksgiving feast for their community.

The ladies at Howard United Methodist Church have been planning the church’s annual Thanksgiving Community Dinner for weeks, making sure they’ve ordered enough food and figuring out how to distribute the meals take-out style this year due to the pandemic.

Even though it was not the normal sit-down meal as it used to be, the hearts of these ladies were just as filled with the desire to make sure everything was done to perfection and everyone who wanted a Thanksgiving Day dinner got one… one that was home-cooked with love.

LANA MUTHLER/THE EXPRESS From left are Wanda Nyman, Julie Cody, Patti Long, Connie Beck, and Marlene Rohrbaugh.

The annual holiday meal is free to the community, compliments of the church, and with heartfelt appreciation to the group of women who prepare it.

The women, with Patti Long as the chief cook, arrived at the church last Saturday morning to begin preparations to feed the 300 people later that day.

Long had already cooked 12 turkeys and she and her faithful assistant Connie Beck had removed the meat from the bones and sliced it, filling more than a dozen large pans.

A large white Styrofoam cooler was filled with bread stuffing. Patti said she broke up 25 loaves of bread and used many pounds of butter to make the stuffing. Onions and seasonings provided the final touch and the aroma filled the kitchen.

Along another table sat three big pans of baked pineapple.

Pineapple for Thanksgiving?

“Yes, we made it for our church dinners. People seemed to like it so we made it this year for Thanksgiving,” Patti said. “It replaces the cranberry sauce in this holiday meal,” she said.

Have you ever peeled 50 pounds of potatoes, cooked them and mashed them?

Well Patti has… with a lot of help from her crew.

But Patti has her own special recipe for her mashed potatoes. She uses lots of milk and butter… and a few containers of sour cream.

“The sour cream just makes them taste better,” she said, when asked about her secret ingredient. “You should try it sometime,” she said with a smile. “I’ll bet you’ll like it.”

Shredding five gallons of cabbage for coleslaw and adding homemade dressing is always a crowd pleaser, and it’s a necessity with the church’s meals.

Perhaps the easiest ingredient for this special dinner is corn. To serve the estimated 300 people expected, Patti had eight gallons of corn … with lots of butter of course.

In one corner of the church’s multi-purpose room where dinners are normally held, a group of ladies were busy breaking apart dinner rolls and bagging them. It looked like a mountain of rolls when all was said and done.

And, oh, what would Thanksgiving Dinner be without dessert?

In previous years the dinner was topped off with a pumpkin dessert, but this year, since everything had to be packaged to go, Patti said she decided cake was the best option.

And cakes they had — 22 of them to be exact, mostly home-baked by church members. The selection was amazing, everything from chocolate, white, German chocolate, strawberry, peanut butter and coconut. Each piece of cake was put into a separate container for the take-out meal.

Everything was so organized, as each woman had a job to do and did it with a smile on her face as the group talked among themselves about everything, from their husbands and grandchildren, to how difficult this past year has been. They also expressed thankfulness for so much, knowing the heartache and pain so many have gone through.

When the meals were all packed in containers, it was time to start making deliveries to shut-ins and residents of local nursing homes and passing out the majority of meals to community residents who drove in front of the church and received their meals from volunteers without getting out of their vehicles. Everyone had to wear a mask during the process.

When it was all done, the ladies smiled broadly at each other.

It was another very successful Howard United Methodist Church Thanksgiving Community dinner.

Once again, the kitchen crew had accomplished something amazing and enjoyed every minute of it.

“And this year we don’t have all that clean-up that we have when we serve the community sit-down style, Patti joked.

“I just love helping other people,” Patti said when asked about the work she does for the church.

“We don’t know what Thanksgiving will be like for people this year, but we were determined to make the best of it for the community,” she continued, thinking aloud about the huge family dinners of the past.

“We’re all doing what we have to this year to keep everyone safe,” she said.

“I think it’s a wonderful thing that the church does every year for the community. For some, this is the only Thanksgiving dinner they will get,” Julie Cody said.

“It’s my way of giving back to the community,” Marlene Rohrbaugh said. “I feel like I have had a good life and now that I’m retired, it’s time to give back to others.”

Wanda Nyman, who brought her mother, Sarah Bitner, to help bag the rolls, remarked, “It’s what we do here at this church… help others. I’ve been here a long time and I like to help.”

And for Connie Beck, who Patti calls her “biggest helper forever,” it’s all bringing joy and happiness to others, most especially those in need.

“It brings joy… it makes someone else’s day brighter… I enjoy doing my part. It makes my day,” Connie said with a smile.

So the final question to these ladies was, “How in the world do you know how much to cook for 300 people?”

“Patti does all that,” the women said, looking at their leader and smiling, as they posed for a picture in the kitchen.

Patti said she couldn’t do it without all the help she gets from them.

There certainly was a lot of love in this room on this special day as the ladies gave of their time to make others happy. And they wouldn’t have it any other way.

“We do it because we enjoy it,” Patti said.

“But let’s not forget God has his hand in all of this, too,” Connie said, emotion in her voice as she spoke. “He’s looking over all of us.”


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