Scalloped potatoes and pumpkin cheesecake. Meatball stroganoff and cherry cobbler. Lasagna and maple charlotte.
For nine years, Betty Ann Spink has been drawing up mouthwatering menus for the monthly lunches at Gale Presbyterian Church. In December, she’ll serve up turkey, mashed potatoes, jellied salad and Christmas pudding – her last meal before retiring from the monthly ritual.
“I’ve really enjoyed it and I’m going to miss the people, but I thought it was time,” Spink said.
Spink was a member of Gale Presbyterian many years ago, before she married and moved away from the area. When she and her husband Harry moved back to Elmira in 1998, Spink returned to Gale. She and another woman had the idea to raise money for the ladies auxiliary by serving lunches.
The first meal was dished up in January 2000. They knew what would be on the menu – macaroni and cheese and vegetables – but had no idea whether they would have 100 people or 10. About 80 showed up for that first lunch, and a tradition was born.
In addition to the dinners, Spink began organizing suppers to raise funds for the church budget, and eventually that evolved into the role of fundraising chairperson.
“I don’t think anybody else wanted [the job], actually,” she chuckled.
On top of the monthly lunches and suppers, she started a Christmas cookie walk that was immensely popular for the four or five years that it ran. Ultimately it was a victim of its own success; baking 20 dozen of 20 types of cookies plus tarts and Christmas puddings became too much work. When Spink’s sister developed carpal tunnel syndrome after hand decorating 70 dozen sugar cookies, they decided to it was time to retire the cookie walk.
Another venture that has proven popular is their New Year’s takeout dinners. People who don’t want to cook on New Year’s can pick up a four-course dinner neatly packaged in a box with a napkin and noisemaker. Last year tickets sold out days ahead of the event, and Spink is hoping this year’s meal will do the same.
“We’re pretty much food oriented,” Spink noted. “It’s something people will come out and participate in. It gets people out and people get to socialize.”
Over the years, she estimates that the different ventures have brought in between $60,000 and $75,000 for the church’s budget.
Spink also has a longtime group of eight or 10 assistants that help serve up the meal, some of whom have been helping since the lunches started nine years ago.
“We have so much fun doing them. That’s what’s kept us doing them for so many years – we really have a good time. There’s a lot of laughing going on in the kitchen, a lot of joking. Even though it’s work, it’s a lot of fun.”
Spink estimates she spent about 30 hours doing the shopping and preparation for each lunch, as well as planning out the menus for the year. It could be nerve-wracking wondering if they were going to have huge quantities of food left over, because often people don’t buy their tickets until a few days beforehand.
Spink says she’ll continue to do the New Year’s takeouts, the pancake and sausage supper on Shrove Tuesdays and the annual fish fry, which turned into a joint fundraiser with Woolwich Community Services and Woolwich Counselling Centre this year. She’ll also help out with the lunches, but another group is taking on the organizational duties.
“It’s kind of nice to just go there and do what you’re supposed to do and not have to worry about all the planning and organizing.”