Every Thanksgiving Day for the past 11 years, Bryant Bay has made his way to St. John’s Lutheran Church to grub on turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans and other traditional holiday fare.



Though his wife is no longer able to make the trip — he will celebrate Thanksgiving with his family on Saturday — Bay joins hundreds of other Pittsburg area residents who attend the dinner each year to celebrate the holiday with old friends, and perhaps make new ones. Bay said the dinner, which is free and, according to church historians, has been hosted by St. John’s for 28 years, is a marked event on his calendar.

Every Thanksgiving Day for the past 11 years, Bryant Bay has made his way to St. John’s Lutheran Church to grub on turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans and other traditional holiday fare.

Though his wife is no longer able to make the trip — he will celebrate Thanksgiving with his family on Saturday — Bay joins hundreds of other Pittsburg area residents who attend the dinner each year to celebrate the holiday with old friends, and perhaps make new ones. Bay said the dinner, which is free and, according to church historians, has been hosted by St. John’s for 28 years, is a marked event on his calendar.

“I look forward to it every year,” Bay said. “And when I get so old that I can’t come, they’ll bring it to me.”

The buttery, rich food has a powerful draw, Bay said. But it’s the attention to details and obvious care the volunteers put into the event that impresses him the most.

“I’ve got a table, actual silverware and a plate that’s not plastic or paper,” Bay said. “It’s just a wonderful atmosphere. It’s great.”

Beth Bradrick has been a fixture on the event committee and its unofficial spokesperson for about 26 years, by her recollection. She said each year more and more people turn out.

“We started with 10 turkeys,” Bradrick said. “This year we cooked 29.”

What started out, Bradrick said, with “a couple little old ladies who were going to be alone on Thanksgiving,” has ballooned into a smorgasbord that feeds many hundreds of hungry residents — this year, she estimated, volunteers fed more than 600 people at the church and delivered more than 200 meals to home-bound residents.

It’s a daunting task, she said. And all those turkeys, along with 11 hams, 250 pounds of potatoes, loads of green beans and sweet potatoes, homemade noodles from an Amish community in Missouri, and 60 or so pies and assorted desserts — most of which is donated — couldn’t be prepared or served without the help of the 40 or 50 volunteers from various churches and other organizations that lend their time and resources each year.

“It’s a fellowship kind of thing,” Bradrick said. “We want to provide a day of friendship and fellowship to anybody and everybody, regardless of their circumstances in life.”

The dinner has been able to grow thanks to a large addition to the church, Bradrick continued. And the industrial kitchen, she said, was specifically designed with events such as this in mind.

“It’s so much better now,” Bradrick said. “It used to be in the basement of the church and it was an old kitchen. We kept blowing breakers and fuses, and the lights kept going out.”

Jodie Ellenberg was 11-years-old when her mother, Laura McCormick, helped prepare the inaugural meal 28 years ago. After returning recently from Texas, where she has lived for several years, she said she is impressed at how the dinner has grown.

“It’s nice to come back and see it’s still going on,” Ellenberg said.

That’s no surprise to Bay.

“You’re seeing generations come together,” Bay said, sipping on a glass of iced tea. “You’ve got parents, grandparents and children all here.”

Tom Wehrman, the pastor at St. John’s for the past five years, said the Thanksgiving dinner is an example of why he wanted to become a minister.

“One of the things that drew me to the congregation is that they do this,” Wehrman said. “You hear about pastors teaching their congregations, but I feel like I’m learning from them. This is just like one big family.”