Dwayne Vaughan isn’t worried if a few unexpected guests show up for Thanksgiving dinner.
He and his team of nearly 150 volunteers, representing several churches in the greater Harrisburg and Concord communities, are seasoned pros when it comes to feeding several hundred people at once. So a few extra guests won’t derail their ambitious holiday meal plans.
“I got some fluff built in,” said Mr. Vaughan, president of Our Community Table’s Board of Directors, as he assisted with Thanksgiving meal preparations in the spacious commercial kitchen at Pitts Baptist Church in Concord late Wednesday afternoon.
Nonprofit volunteers – who have been preparing and serving homemade meals for hundreds of people in need on the last Saturday of each month for the past year and a half at nearby Rocky River Church – spent most of Thanksgiving Eve preparing a homemade turkey dinner, with all the fixings, for 1,200 people.
That impressive figure marks the most meals ever served at one time by Our Community Table, and Mr. Vaughan notes that 600 of them are to be hand-delivered by 25 two-person teams late Thanksgiving morning to those without transportation and living in the far reaches of Cabarrus County.
“I think we did 170 deliveries last year,” says Mr. Vaughan, noting that they also served 600 meals at Rocky River Church at the same time.
All of the to-go meals will be delivered early enough so they can be properly enjoyed by their recipients, while scores of other volunteers will be taking time out of their holiday to serve another 600 meals, from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m., at Rocky River Church, located on the corner of Roberta and Pitts School roads.
Partnering With Pitts Baptist
Volunteers spent several hours Wednesday pulling meat from 100 freshly grilled turkeys cooked earlier in the day on three large pig roasters situated in the parking lot of Pitts Baptist Church, which recently signed on as a partner of Our Community Table.
They then prepared more than 250 pounds of sweet potatoes, using power drills equipped with special mixing attachments, to prepare one of the side dishes. The other sides include stuffing and green beans prepared with bacon bits and mixed in a special dressing, and there will be pre-packed fruit cups for dessert.
Our Community Table, which only attained its nonprofit status three months ago, was able to serve several hundred additional meals on Thanksgiving thanks to its newly forged partnership with Pitts Baptist, Mr. Vaughan explained. In addition to offering a commercial grade kitchen, providing more space to prepare the meals, Pitts Baptist has agreed to prepare and serve a community meal on the second Saturday of every month starting in January 2020.
In fact, Pitts Baptist has already twice hosted the monthly meals – once in August and again in September – and so many people volunteered that the parish signed up for all of 2020, according to Melinda Edgerton, who leads the church’s missions committee.
“We’ve had over 100 volunteers at all of our events,” said Ms. Edgerton, who added that this year marks their first Thanksgiving meal preparation. “So many people volunteered to help that it just made sense to do it.”
Deanna Jordan and her mother, Angela, both of Concord, pitched in by pulling meat from the turkeys and placing it in aluminum serving trays. Deanna and her father, James, will be delivering some of meals on Thanksgiving morning.
“I have always wanted to do something like this, like help run a soup kitchen, for a long time,” said Angela Jordan. “I’m just so happy to get to help other people.”
“This is the best thing ever,” added volunteer Cindy Brown, who traditionally volunteers her services at Rocky River Church, after opening up an oversized can of sweet potatoes.
Mr. Vaughan is excited to have Pitts Baptist Church aboard, noting that one of Our Community Table’s longer-range goals is to serve a quality meal every single Saturday at a local house of worship. To make that happen, he plans on meeting with church leaders and explaining the mission of Our Community Table, which is to offer both nourishment and fellowship.
“The vision is to have a meal every Saturday, and then also possibly having multiple churches doing it on the same Saturday,” says Mr. Vaughan, who lives in Harrisburg and attends Venture Church. “The need goes beyond Cabarrus County.”
He explained that there’s a growing need for free meals throughout Cabarrus and its neighboring counties. Many have financial struggles, while others simply cannot make their way to a supermarket or food pantry.
Mr. Vaughan described these gaps in supermarket and food pantry coverage as “food deserts,” adding that his nonprofit has been working with Cooperative Christian Ministries out of Concord to help identify areas in need of such services.
“There are some areas within Cabarrus County that takes 10 miles to get to a grocery store,” he said. “That doesn’t sound like a lot, but for someone with limited transportation that could be huge.”
Mr. Vaughan points out that what separates Our Community Table is the attention given to its menu offerings. Not counting the traditional Thanksgiving meal, Our Community Pantry sticks with serving four meals – including Mr. Vaughan’s personal recipe for baked chicken pasta – all of which have been taste-tested by him and other members of his nonprofit’s board.
“It’s the baked chicken spaghetti that I make at home – I just multiply it by 100, or 200, or 500,” Mr. Vaughan said. “We don’t dip out of cans to make this happen. We do fewer things, but we do them extremely well.”
Though it has been going strong for 18 months, Our Community Table’s roots trace back nearly a decade, when Mr. Vaughan and several friends, led by Greg Waid, would barbecue pork butts for various church fundraisers. Mr. Vaughan explained that after a few years the group decided to offer an annual Thanksgiving meal called “Feed the Need.”
“We wanted to get God’s name out there, and introduce people within our community to God,” Mr. Vaughan said. “Eighteen months ago we decided to expand it. We’ve been quite deliberate in what we’ve done … and what we hope on doing.”