Community ready for annual feast
By RANDY GONZALES
It started approximately 20 years ago, and the Ellis County Ministerial Alliance has kept the tradition alive of a community Thanksgiving Day dinner.
One change this year for Thursday's dinner, which starts at noon, is the location. After having the dinner at the National Guard Armory in years prior, the dinner will be at the old Fanchon Ballroom, 2350 E. Old U.S. Highway 40.
The former Pam's Bakery Shop and Catering, renamed Rose Garden Steak Haus & Catering, 230 E. Eighth, has purchased the Fanchon building, now called the Rose Garden Banquet Hall.
"They asked if they could have the meal there, because that's where their kitchen is," said Kyle Ermoian, pastor at Celebration Community Church and president of the Ellis County Ministerial Alliance.
"They used to cook it and bring it over to the armory," he said. "This makes it much more convenient, and is a nicer atmosphere than the armory is. We're grateful to the armory for all the years they did it."
Florence Wear, owner of Corner Garden restaurant, started the tradition of a community Thanksgiving dinner. Ermoian said after the restaurant closed its doors in 2007, the fate of the dinner was in question.
"At that point in time, I took it upon myself to have Ellis County Ministerial Alliance take responsibility for that meal," Ermoian said.
"I sought out Pam Burgardt and asked her if she was willing to make a commitment to keep that event alive. She was willing; other caterers said they were willing to do it, but not on Thanksgiving Day itself -- that wasn't the idea."
With Burgardt on board, Ermoian started the search for partners willing to share the cost for the meal.
"We have a group of sponsors every year, as well as the United Way, to help pay for the meal," Ermoian said.
Approximately 17 years ago, Ermoian would have people over from his congregation for Thanksgiving dinner. After a couple years, Ermoian had everybody instead go to the community dinner. Feeling guilty for doing that, Ermoian started a program to donate groceries for those who come to the community dinner.
Volunteers collected the groceries at local grocery stores Saturday, and they will fill bags Wednesday to distribute Thursday. In all, there are approximately 150 volunteers every year, including those who donate their time at the meal.
"We always have more than enough volunteers," Ermoian said.
Ermoian said usually the dinner serves approximately 300 people. To make those in attendance feel more comfortable, there are hosts assigned to each table.
"We want it to be a family-like atmosphere, so we have a couple table hosts at each table, just to engage our guests in conversation," Ermoian said.
Ermoian said the dinner fills a need.
"It brings the people of the community together, both people who are in need, and people who want to volunteer," he said. "It also provides a service for people who maybe it's not so much they can't afford to have a Thanksgiving Day meal, it's just a big undertaking.
"We're finding more and more elderly people who are having Thanksgiving Day with us."
First Call for Help is organizing volunteers. To volunteer, call (785) 623-2800.