Banquet begins 10th anniversary celebration

SALEM – Visitors to the Banquet in Salem can expect some birthday cake Monday as the fellowship meal marks the beginning of its year-long 10th anniversary celebration.

Organizers are planning a series of anniversary events leading up to the actual 10-year mark, which hits in 2014.

The Banquet began on Sept. 20, 2004 with a meal served by volunteers from Emmanuel Lutheran Church. About 60 people showed up to eat and now the Banquet averages about 200 people each week.

“Nobody could foresee 10 years down the road and the huge response,” Pastor Connie Sassanella of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church said recently.

During one meal last month, they had 251 people come to eat, with a lot of children present.

Holy Trinity volunteers will cook and serve the meal on kick-off Monday, featuring hot turkey sandwiches, mashed potatoes and gravy, peas, applesauce, fresh vegetables, fresh fruit and ice cream sundaes.

The meal takes place from 5 to 7 p.m. every Monday at the Memorial Building on East State Street. Another meal was added from 5 to 7 p.m. the fourth Thursday of each month, also at the Memorial Building.

More than a decade ago, four ministers in Salem had an interest in starting a feeding ministry and that’s how the Banquet came to pass.

Besides Sassanella, who serves as president of the Banquet board, and Bill Wilkins, the former pastor of Emmanuel Luthern, who serves as treasurer, the other ministers included the late Jack Austin of Salem First Christian Church and Rev. Tom Eisweirth, formerly of St. Paul Catholic Church.

The Banquet relies on the volunteerism of its sponsor groups who take turns cooking a meal, serving it and then cleaning up.

“I’m thrilled at the ongoing response of volunteer sponsor groups. All spots are filled through Christmas,” Sassanella said.

Sometime in the spring, all volunteers, donors and sponsoring groups will be honored with their

own celebration as part of the year-long festivities.

“This community supports worthwhile causes,” Pastor Alan Smearsoll of Emmanuel Lutheran Church said.

This past July, Will “Butch” Hallewell of Salem performed a benefit concert for the Banquet as an early kick-off for the 10-year anniversary. Many who attend the Banquet know him as the “guitar man” who occasionally performs for them.

Other special celebrations will be announced as the year continues.