St. Mary’s set to serve extended ‘family’ on Thanksgiving in Portage

November 20, 2018

In a sense, Joy Morse’s stuffing is very similar to the event she prepares it for.

Both seem to be more than the sum of their parts.

“I use a combination of my grandmother’s recipe and my sister-in-law’s recipe and my mom’s recipe,” Morse said of the stuffing she’ll have ready for Thursday’s free Thanksgiving Dinner at St. Mary’s Church in Portage.

Her ingredients for the stuffing include day-old bread and croutons, pork sausage, eggs, milk, onion, celery and chicken stock. She uses sage for seasoning. She’s one of about 100 volunteers contributing to the meal, which regularly serves more than 200 people at St. Mary’s School and 150 more in deliveries.

But Morse is not a member of St. Mary’s Church. She’s a member of Trinity United Church of Christ in Portage.

“We get help from all over the community,” event organizer Amy Jo Fisher said. “That’s what makes it successful. Everybody in the community steps up.”

The Portage Culver’s has donated 150 to-go containers for the event’s deliveries, Fisher said, while General Engineering Co. in Portage again held a soup cook-off to help the church pay for its $1,000 grocery bill — helpful considering the church purchased 160 pounds of turkey for $650.

“Random people will just stop in and say, ‘Thanks for doing this,’ and then they’ll drop off a pie,” Fisher said of the extra help. Fisher estimated the church receives more than 100 pies each year for the event — so many pies the church often sends out whole pies to the families in meal deliveries.

Parish members do much of the work. Dan Gaffney donated corn and green beans and Kathy Johnson is making cranberries. Parish Administrator Lisa Clemmons takes all the delivery orders — which need to be in before the parish office closes at 5 p.m. Wednesday — and Clemmons and her family help Fisher with kitchen duties and serving guests.

Attendees, too, hail from all walks of life, and that’s precisely the idea, Clemmons said. “A lot of times, I don’t think people realize how many people are out there who either have nowhere to go on Thanksgiving and they maybe just want to spend the day with us or they simply don’t have means to get a decent meal.”

Over the past five years or so, the event has grown to become the church’s “signature event,” Fisher said. Last year, when the church announced it needed volunteer delivery drivers, “everyone and their brother showed up” to the school’s gymnasium on Thanksgiving morning to help drive the meals throughout Portage.

“We had all the deliveries out of the door by 11, which is amazing,” Fisher said, noting the church won’t need extra volunteers for deliveries this year.

The key to the event’s growth is its inclusiveness, Fisher said. People seem to understand, perhaps now better than ever, that “everybody is welcome, and that if you can’t join us, you can just give us a call and we’ll come to you.”

Morse said the people who attend the meal “often feel like they’re part of the family” on Thanksgiving Day, sitting down with the others, feeling grateful and enjoying the camaraderie. She’s aware of the positive reputation her stuffing has earned over the years, she said, recalling how one year a person arrived at the church with a plastic container, asking Morse if she could take some home with her.

“That made me feel good,” Morse said, pointing out another occasion when she watched a family arrive at the church with their wheelchair-bound matriarch because they couldn’t get her wheelchair in somewhere else. They brought her in the church just fine and seemed happy with their choice.

“People will sit down with somebody they’ve never met or they’ll find a neighbor. It’s about coming together. It’s what the holiday is all about,” Morse said. “You don’t have to be poor or whatever. It’s about us being a family, even though we’re not related.

“I hope it never quits because it sure makes me feel good inside.”

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