Shepherd’s Feast welcomes community

Published 7:31 pm Tuesday, December 18, 2012

About 40 volunteers are needed each year to put on the Shepherd’s Feast, which Ross Fox said is open to all community members, not just those in need financially. He said many who attend simply desire the company of others during the holidays. (photo submitted by Duncan Ely)

Volunteers needed

The Shepherds Feast isn’t just a meal. It’s a time for sharing the spirit of the holiday season. The seventh-annual Christmas dinner will be held from 1-4 p.m. on Christmas at Polk County Middle School.

All are invited to share food and fellowship at no charge and with no reservations.

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Community members are invited to join young and old, single and married, rich and poor, friends and strangers, those alone and with families, individuals with places to go or no place to be – all gathering in one place to celebrate Christmas.
“This year local musicians Phil and Gay Johnson will provide some of the entertainment,” said organizer Ross Fox.

No one could enjoy this event of fellowship, food and fun without the volunteers who make it happen, Fox said.
“We really need volunteers,” said Fox. “We need servers, kitchen help and clean up crew members.”

Fox said the Shepherd’s Feast also needs unwrapped toys to give to the children who attend, and donors can drop the toys off between 1- 3 p.m., Monday, Dec. 23 at the Polk County Middle School.

Fox modeled the Shepherd’s Feast on Hendersonville’s Bounty of Bethlehem, which is hosting its 28th dinner this Christmas. Last year about 600 volunteers made it possible for more than 900 people to sit down for dinner in Hendersonville, and another 1,800 delivered meals.

All in all, Bounty serves approximately 3,000 meals to people eating in the dining room, volunteers, and delivered and take-home meals.

“I used to volunteer there as part of the wait staff,” Fox said. “I was paired with a lady who’d recently lost her husband and wanted to be around people during Christmas.”

Fox thought the Carolina Foothills needed something similar, especially with so many retired people in the area, although the Shepherd’s Feast is for anyone of any age or background who wants to share a Christmas dinner with others.

The first year we had 85 people sit down for dinner and provided another 35 take-out meals to Steps to Hope and a few other places,” Fox said. “Thermal Belt Outreach took the leftovers.”

Last year the Shepherd’s Feast had more than 300 people sit down, and this year they expect even more. People come in and out during the three hours, so everyone is not eating at the same time.

“We prepare for a certain number,” Fox said. “If we don’t meet that quota we send the leftover food to places like Thermal Belt Outreach Ministry and other nonprofits. Last year we even sent food to Polk County Jail.”

The Shepherd’s Feast was not always at the Polk County Middle School. For the first two years, the Congregational Church in Tryon provided space. The move to the school last year was to draw a larger and more diverse group of people.

“The principal, Hank Utz, is letting us have it at the school again this year,” Fox said. “He’s a really great guy and even helps us in the kitchen.”

The school already has a tree, but volunteers add more Christmas decorations for the dinner.

“Giardini’s Trattoria co-owner Mary Lyth has provided a lot of the decorations,” Fox says.

A lot of volunteers work hard to pull off this local holiday social event, and more are needed to serve as waiters, kitchen help and musicians. Lyth also heads up the kitchen, coordinates people and brings in other professional chefs as volunteers.

“She does a fabulous job of spearheading what has to be done in the kitchen,” Fox says.

Shane Blackwell of Mountain View BBQ and Deli in Columbus prepares the turkeys in a smoker that will cook 20 at a time.

“Debbie Thomas of the Wildflour Bakery in Saluda provides a lot of the bread and rolls we need,“ Fox said. “And they’re good rolls, too.”

Thermal Belt Outreach helps put up posters and mail about a hundred letter to churches, businesses and the like.

The Shepherd’s Feast is a community effort for community residents. Since no one pays to attend the Shepherd’s Feast, Fox relies on gifts from individual and business and in-kind donations from IGA and other grocery stores. Volunteers gather on prep day and on Christmas morning to cook, carve turkeys and generally make sure everything is ready. There is even free transportation available for anyone who needs it.

“Its pretty darned good,” Fox said of the dinner. “In fact, it’s a great event!”

Join the community celebration as a diner, donor or volunteer. Call Fox at 828-859-9979 for more information.

– article submitted by Duncan Ely