Nov. 26—A year full of ups and downs culminated Thursday with takeouts — about 350 of them.
The Family and Community Christian Association carried out its annual mission of serving Thanksgiving meals to those in need of fellowship and, as was the case last year, the emphasis was on carry out.
With no in-person meal for the second year in a row due to the pandemic, more than 30 FCCA volunteers packed and delivered 292 meals, according to Executive Director Regina Merritt. Another 58 meals were picked up.
The assembly line-style packing of to-go boxes worked like clockwork and in less than 45 minutes the deliveries were out the door into the trunks and rear storage compartments of a long line of drivers headed to homes all over the Meadville area.
But the smoothly functioning distribution operation came after some significant hiccups threatened to derail the 45-year-old event.
"It's been an interesting year — full of ups and downs," Merritt said. "Over the last three weeks, the community really stepped up to the plate."
Late last month, staff members discovered water in the basement. When they went to check the electrical panel, they found steam coming from it, according to Merritt. The electricity had to be shut off and six turkeys already on site in anticipation of Thanksgiving were given away.
With no electricity through mid-November, staff members scrambled with help from other organizations in the area to continue their usual work and come up with an alternative plan for the annual Thanksgiving dinner. They soon contracted with Mark Brode of 'Round the Lake Kitchen of Conneaut Lake to prepare the meal that would normally be prepared by volunteers. The installation of new electrical service lines and service panel enabled them to use the room that would normally be filled
Merritt said the fact that the dinner still took place was largely due to the community as a whole.
"We received enough donations from the community to pay for the whole meal," she said. "We're just sort of the middleman."
The precision teamwork on display inside and outside the Chestnut Street building, however, suggested that the role of FCCA staff and volunteers amounts to more than just middlemen.
In a typical year, the community room inside would be filled with hundreds of people who don't have local options for Thanksgiving meals. On Thursday, it was filled with tables ringing one end of the room, all of them covered by lines of meal containers.
One by one, volunteers made their way around the ring: first, Kevin Merritt would lay a solid foundation of turkey slices that lapped over the edges of the main compartment; next Dan Kantz plopped a baseball-sized scoop of stuffing on top. Behind Kantz, Sue Vidoni gave her right arm a workout scooping mashed potatoes and Brenda Kantz, Dan's wife, added a healthy heaping of green beans that ensured each meal contained a reasonable amount of vegetables. Erika Riemann followed, ladling gravy from an enormous stock pot, and Sherman Allen tailed behind, checking each container, then closing it up.
Other volunteers busily made their way from kitchen to community room, restocking the ingredients for the assembly line or placing the completed meals in boxes and bags with rolls and pie slices. From there, they were transported to the sidewalk, where a steady line of vehicles waited for delivery orders.
At one car, Doug Mosbacher stood at the rear, the last person in a mini-firefighter brigade passing bagged meals into the trunk. His daughter, Abby, was behind the wheel.
"We've been doing this for years — probably 15 years," Doug said.
A few cars behind, Kathy and Jeff Allio were participating for the first time. It was the couple's first Thanksgiving on their own, Jeff said. They normally travel to visit family, but not this year.
"We figured this was a good way to spend it," he added.
Mike Crowley can be reached at (814) 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.