The kitchen at Central Baptist Church will be humming once again this Thanksgiving Day. The historic downtown church has been providing turkey dinners to the Springfield community for over 35 years at its annual Feast of Plenty dinner. "The original intent was to provide a place where people could gather together – we didn't want people to be alone on Thanksgiving," explained Rev. Mary Ellen Sharp, who serves as the church's interim lead pastor. The event has grown considerably since its inception when approximately 100 people gathered together that first year to enjoy food and fellowship. They added a delivery option in the early 90s and the number of meals served has increased steadily to over 1,000 in recent years. In addition to providing a meal to anyone who orders one, the Feast of Plenty also delivers dinners to the Helping Hands and Salvation Army shelters.
Due to pandemic safety precautions, the dine-option was canceled last year and CBC contracted out preparation of the meal to Arena Food Service. This year the meal will once again be prepared with the help of volunteers in the church's spacious kitchen under the direction of Denise Perry, a local chef and owner of Copper Pot Cooking Studio in Springfield. This year all meals will once again be carryout or delivery, which will allow the dining area to be transformed into a huge serving line, giving volunteers ample space to spread out. Volunteers who will be helping inside the church are required to be vaccinated and must wear a mask. People who sign up to help deliver meals do not need to be vaccinated, though they will be asked to wear a mask while inside the building.
It's a complicated logistical feat to organize, with dozens of volunteers and huge quantities of food needed to pull it off. Perry said that one of her biggest concerns is sourcing ingredients for this year's feast. "The supply shortages are notorious right now so I reached out to our local vendors and got everything ordered extra early," Perry added. "The dry goods are all coming from MJ Kellner's and I reached out to Hope at Humphrey's Market to secure 300 pounds of turkey. I'm trying to get everything here as soon as possible so if it turns out something's not available there's time to deal with it."
In addition to the turkey, Feast of Plenty volunteers help to prepare tens of gallons of gravy, mashed potatoes and stuffing. "Prep will probably start on Monday of that week, and on the day of, we'll probably set up four serving lines with five people in each line, in addition to 10 or so individuals working in the kitchen. It will be an early day for me for sure!" Perry laughed. "Really though this is just the best day – it's truly poetry in motion. This dinner has been going on for such a long time, and for years the CBC community has devoted their Thanksgiving to helping others in need. And isn't that what this holiday is all about?"
In previous years, parishioners donated homemade baked goods for the dessert portion of the meal, however due to health code restrictions they must now be commercially prepared. The church is instead asking donors to drop off commercially prepared desserts that do not require refrigeration to the CBC on Wednesday, Nov. 24, the day before Thanksgiving.
"Our Feast of Plenty Thanksgiving meal is an opportunity for us to be an expression of God's love and care for the people of our community with the hope no one will be hungry on Thanksgiving Day," explained Rev. Sharp. Those looking to order a meal or sign up to volunteer can do so by calling the Central Baptist Church office at 217-523-3639. Information about the event is on the church's website (https://www.cbcchurchfamily.org/events-2/) , as well as information about how to support the event with a monetary contribution.