Continuing a Thanksgiving tradition

By on November 28, 2018

Nineteen years ago, the clergy of Lititz area churches decided to host a Thanksgiving dinner for those in need. With the support and encouragement of then Mayor Russell Pettyjohn, the churches hosted their first community celebration for residents at St. Paul Lutheran Church.

Although similar events are held yearly in towns across the country, the Lititz Thanksgiving celebration has grown into a truly unique event serving–with the help of many volunteers– hundreds of people including some in need and others who just wish to celebrate the holiday with their neighbors. Everyone feels it is a tradition worth continuing. In reminiscing about the first dinner, Mayor Pettyjohn, now 85, who served the borough for 25 years, including 15 as mayor, and still lives in Lititz with his wife Irene, recalls, “I was active with the borough ministers’ group at the time and when the idea of organizing and hosting the Thanksgiving meal came up, I not only supported it, I encouraged it and helped in any way I could.”

Chris Dye of Lancaster works his turkey magic at the community celebration dinners at St. Paul Church.

“The community responded favorably to the idea of the dinner and it continues to be volunteer run by nearly 30 area churches,” explains Tony Blair, one of the senior pastors at Hosanna! A Fellowship of Christians &tstr; the site for the meal the last several years. It has grown from a modest gathering to an event that served 980 people in 2018 – with the help of close to 200 volunteers –in a joyful Thanksgiving Day celebration.”

During the past two decades, the meal was hosted by a number of Lititz churches. Hosanna became the site about eight years ago taking it over from the Grace Methodist Church. PJ Leaman has served as Hosanna’s dinner coordinator since then. Pastor Blair describes Ms. Leaman as a ‘wizard’ in assembling volunteers to help with the event along with overseeing all the other logistics.
In discussing the 2018 dinner with Ms. Leaman in early November, it was clear she had all her ducks in line. “I have experienced church volunteers in charge of every aspect of the day from preparation, cooking and serving to clean-up,” she says, “and we have so many volunteers this year that to use them all in meaningful roles during the day, I have reduced each shift to 45 minutes. We’re blessed with the help.”

To serve the nearly 1000 guests it will take 40-45 turkeys. And Hosanna volunteers borrow a page from the Amish tradition where the mother of the bride has extended family help cook the chicken for the wedding meal. Ms. Leaman gets help from church volunteers who roast the turkeys and bring them to Hosanna’s 29 Green Acres Road site on Thanksgiving morning. The birds are logged in and given a cooked temperature check for food preparation safety before readied for the serving line.

Guests will enjoy turkey, sweet potatoes, stuffing, baked corn (that takes nearly 200 cans to prepare), cranberry, rolls and butter donated for several years by Lititz Family Cupboard restaurant on

Newport Road and drinks from Grace Church, Lititz.
Explains Ms. Leaman, “Our partner churches also donate, besides volunteers, fruits and deserts &tstr; and the other necessities to make this event as close as it can be to one you might prepare at home.”

Carter Newman is dressed for occasion as it prepares gravy for delivery meals.

Pastor Blair and Ms. Leaman explain that the dinner has grown and evolved into something truly special not just a Thanksgiving dinner for those in need. “We have area residents who are alone and enjoy being with a community of friends for this holiday,” Pastor Blair says. “Anyone and everyone is welcome to enjoy the meal, seconds and even thirds plus taking one home for later,” Ms. Leaman emphasizes.

More than half the guests dine on site at Hosanna. The numbers increase every year, Ms. Leaman and Pastor Blair explain, and no one is turned away. Says Ms. Leaman, “We have singles, couples and even families who enjoy having their Thanksgiving holiday meal with us each year and we are glad to have them.”

Several hundred area residents have their meal delivered thanks to long-time volunteer Anne Loechner from St. James Catholic Church, Lititz. Ms. Loechner, with husband Ken, organize about 50 drivers to make deliveries from the route created by Mr. Loechner. The couple also coordinate drivers to bring area residents, who request it, to Hosanna to enjoy their meal in the social atmosphere of friends and neighbors.

The drivers too are volunteers from groups including the VFW, as well as Girl and Boy Scout as well as Trail Life Scout parents who will bring their children along to help. The list of individuals who request a meal delivery comes from Lititz’s Meals On Wheels (West Orange Street) who have worked closely with the area churches to see that those residents who are unable to get to the dinner site are delivered their Thanksgiving meal.

Hosanna Pastor Tony Blair, center, with some members of his committee, left to right, PJ Leaman, Pastor JoAnn Kunz, Anne and Ken Loechner.

Says Ms. Loechner, Hosanna has the meals ready to deliver right at 10 a.m. and our drivers are in an out quickly.” She explains that each driver makes five deliveries and at times have come back make a second trip.

Ms. Lochner’s name and telephone number is listed every fall in all the local church bulletins and she starts getting calls early in September from people who want to help. “I had a community health worker Ashlee Martin call me in October,” she said in our phone call in November, “to add a patient to the delivery list and then asked if she could help in delivering too.”

When it is all said and done, the Lititz Thanksgiving community dinner is a blessing for those who enjoy it and a source of pride and accomplishment for the area churches and their volunteers who organize, prepare and serve it. It is truly is a Lititz tradition worth continuing.

Sandy Cobes from Brownstown has been giving thanks working &tstr; with husband Dick &tstr; at the community dinner for eight years. She says, “I believe no one should ever be hungry and especially on Thanksgiving. I enjoy helping and serving the community.”

Chris Dye is the community dinner chief carver. He says: “I have done this for six years and I enjoy being involved and giving back to the community. And it is a fun day for all of us too.”

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