By MATTHEW KENWRIGHT
Eight hams, 24 turkeys, 16 gallons of green bean casserole, 40 pies and 500 rolls added up to one delicious dinner Thursday at Rose Garden Banquet Hall.
Although 614 meals were served, the community Thanksgiving feast was an intimate affair. Families, volunteers and strangers sat together at small round tables and broke bread together.
The program was a genuine family production. Pam Burgardt, owner of Rose Garden Steak Haus & Catering, said she and several members of her family worked on the event for a week and a half leading up to Thursday. The restaurant, which has catered the event for six years, donated the venue, tablecloths and cooking.
"I just think it's a wonderful thing for the community. I'm thankful for all the people that donated their time, food and money so this could be successful," Burgardt said.
The Ellis County Ministerial Alliance adopted the annual tradition in 2007 from Florence Wear, owner of the former Corner Garden restaurant. First Call for Help of Ellis County always has rallied volunteers to serve diners and clean up.
Kyle Ermoian, senior pastor of Celebration Community Church and dinner coordinator, said the hall's round tables bred a more inclusive atmosphere than the long tables in prior years. The volunteers fostered a sense of home for attendees.
"Their job is to serve the people who are at their table, to bring them drinks, to communicate with them, to help them to feel welcome," he said. "So there's not the soup kitchen mentality, but that there is a family atmosphere."
Volunteers engaged attendees in dinner conversations guided by the FORE method -- family, occupancy, recreation and entertainment.
Celeste Lasich, pastor of Hays' First Presbyterian Church and an ECMA member, said the feast was a reflection of the ECMA's strength through unity.
"No one church could do all this, but all of us working together, we can create something that is just wonderful and really builds up the community for everyone," Lasich said.
Kris Brooke, administrative assistant with First Call for Help and the program's volunteer coordinator, said 100 volunteers were involved. Sixty-seven meals were delivered to home-bound community members and Developmental Services of Northwest Kansas patients.
"There are a lot of people that don't have family," Brooke said. "There's a lot of people that can't afford to put on a Thanksgiving dinner. ... They can mingle with other people. We want them to feel so comfortable here."
Rick Deel, Hays, said the dinner suited his family because he and his wife, Melinda, have health issues.
"With me being chronic and her being chronic, it just makes sense," Deel said. "It's so much easier. We don't have the cooking mess. We don't have to clean up."
Brooke said her volunteers hosted a food drive and collected enough to fill 286 bags with canned goods, cereal, macaroni and cheese, ramen noodles, vegetables and potatoes. Each sack made approximately three meals. The bread was donated by Sara Lee Old Home Bread Store.
Shelby Phillips, a senior at Hays High School and dinner volunteer, said she wanted to give back to others on the holiday.
"I've spent all my life spending it with my family, and I felt like I would go out and be humble this year and help other people," she said.
Hays Medical Center, Hays Area Chamber of Commerce, Ellis County Abstract and Title Co. Inc., Hays Lion Club, ACCESS Transportation, St. John's Assisted Living, Great Plains Dermatology, United Way and The Hays Daily News were among the feast's sponsors.