The Banquet will honor volunteers, donors

SALEM – The Banquet in Salem will continue celebrating 10 years of feeding others by honoring the volunteers and donors who made the meals possible the past decade.

Called An “Evening of Celebration,” the open house-style event will be hosted by the Banquet in Salem board from 6 to 8 p.m. April 23 at the Memorial Building gym, 785 E. State St., with refreshments, conversation and music.

“The idea is to say thanks to all the donors and volunteers from our last 10 years,” Rev. William Wilkins said.

Wilkins, who serves as treasurer of the Banquet board, was one of four Salem ministers who spearheaded efforts to start a community feeding program more than a decade ago. He is the former minister of Emmanuel Lutheran Church on South Broadway Avenue.

Pastor Connie Sassanella of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church on East State Street, another one of the founding ministers, serves as board president and spoke about what drives the volunteers. Other founders were the late Rev. Jack Austin and Rev. Thomas Eisweirth, formerly of St. Paul Church.

“I think, initially, they come thinking they’re going to help someone else, but they realize how much they have been blessed,” she said.

A simple invitation has been sent to the more than 500 volunteers and donors on the Banquet mailing list, but they also wanted to let anyone in the area who has volunteered their services or their dollars to the Banquet to attend the celebration and accept the board’s gratitude for what they’ve contributed.

The cost of the evening will be paid through gifts specifically for the celebration, not from donations for Banquet meals.

Both Wilkins and Sassanella estimated the number of volunteers over one year at 1,300. Sassanella said the people change from time to time, with some volunteers along for the ride since day one and others who have joined the effort along the way.

The refreshments will include ham salad and chicken salad sandwiches, vegetables, fruit, cookies, ice cream and beverages. Music will be provided by vocalists from the Salem High School jazz band under the direction of Hannah McFarland and Butch Hallewell, a singer and guitarist who is a frequent performer at the Banquet in Salem.

Members of the Banquet board will be there to greet people and photographs from the Banquet over the past 10 years will be displayed.

It takes a team of about 25 people to run each Banquet meal, with 64 Banquets served per year, plus Christmas. Some teams serve more than once, but it’s usually no more than twice a year. For teams that might not have enough people, there’s a group known as Friends of the Banquet who fill in.

At each Banquet, there are people in blue aprons and green aprons. Sassanella explained that the blue aprons are the folks who are there every week, who set up and close down, distribute and collect tickets and man the door.

The green aprons are the members of the team serving that week who cook and serve the meal. They come from churches, organizations, student groups and businesses and determine what they’re going to provide, based on a meal guide. Each meal includes a main dish, fruit, vegetables, soup or salad, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, dessert, punch, water, coffee or iced tea and white or chocolate milk.

Wilkins said serving the Banquet is like a staff-building event for some of the groups, such as the hospital, school groups or businesses. They’re working together in a different way than their normal interactions.

“I think it’s kind of a feel-good thing and an awareness of the need in the community,” he said.

Volunteers are encouraged to talk with the people they’re serving or even sit down and eat with them. People from all walks of life come to the Banquet, from people who need a meal to people who may be lonely and want fellowship. Sassanella said some of the regular attendees provide the resources for an entire Banquet, which costs an average of $500.

Donors include individuals, organizations, corporations, churches and even memorial meals done in honor of someone who may have passed away. Wilkins said many times they find out the person who died had served the Banquet or made a donation.

“They thought of the Banquet as something meaningful to them,” he said.

Not only do they receive donations of money, but also of food or services. The local Dairy Boosters donate dairy products and they receive donations from the Salem Community Foundation and a meat grant from the SAFCO fund through SCF.

At the beginning of this year, a donation of $900 was made from a donor through SCF for the purchase of books to be given to children when they attend the Banquet. Each child can pick out a book at each Banquet. They also learned that the Salem Public Library, which is located next to the Memorial Building, sees increased usage on Monday nights from people at the Banquet also visiting the library.

When asked about the Banquet’s longevity, they credited the volunteers and donors. They’ve lost people along the way, but others have stepped in to keep the meal ministry going – they recognize the need.

The Banquet is served from 5 to 7 p.m. every Monday and on the fourth Thursday of each month.