Volunteers serve up free Easter dinners in the Alle-Kiski Valley

Brian C. Rittmeyer
| Monday, April 1, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Colorful marshmallow Peeps sat atop cake slices Sunday in the basement of Tarentum's Central Presbyterian Church, where people gathered for a free Easter dinner.

The church is where Holy Smokes Cafe has been offering regular, donation-only Sunday meals for about a year. It was the first time, with the help of the church and its members, for an Easter dinner there.

The basement quickly filled, leaving Holy Smokes owner Scott Mishler of Springdale Township to wonder if he had enough food.

About the same time, across the river in Arnold, Lighthouse Ministries was coping with an overflow crowd, as the tiny building was changed from a worship space to a dining room.

Lighthouse Pastor Steve Gabor said he would let people in as he could while complying with occupancy limits.

At Central Presbyterian, Samuel Watts was in the spirit, putting a pair of white-and-pink bunny ears atop his black AC/DC knit cap. He said he moved to Tarentum from Hollywood, Calif., a year ago, and came to the Easter meal alone.

“I came here every Sunday. They do a great breakfast,” he said. “I never seen anything like this, even in California.

“It's an amazing thing they're doing for the public,” he said.

This is the first year the church has offered a dinner on Easter, said Dave Rankin of Harrison, a church elder. All 80 seats were taken.

“We're trying to reach out to the community,” he said. “I'm pleased to see the response.”

Mishler said the buffet menu included ham, lamb, roast beef, lasagna, lobster bisque, sides and desserts. Church members donated much of the food.

“If anybody leaves here hungry, it's their fault,” he said.

“This is our family. We're going to have Easter dinner for our family, and whoever wants to come and be part of our family is welcome,” he said.

The Rev. Bob Dayton put on a puppet show. A retired Presbyterian minister, he's been preaching at the church on a fill-in basis since February.

“This is really a good idea,” he said. “Churches ought to be reaching out to the community.”

Ham also was on the menu at Lighthouse Ministries in Arnold, where preparation began three days before. Before the meal was a service focusing on Christ's Resurrection.

“We fed their souls; now we're going to feed their bodies,” Gabor said.

“Some of these people can't afford to eat, or they're lonely and have no one to fellowship with,” he said.

Jeremy Nicholson of Murrysville said he helped with the dinner because giving back to the community was in his heart.

“There's a lot of blackness down in these parts,” he said. “People need to know they're loved and don't have to live the way they do.”

For 12 years, Gabor and his wife, Becky, have offered meals on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.

Easter “is the most important day of the year to me,” Steve Gabor said.

Becky Gabor pointed out four homeless people sitting down to eat and talked of the people she and her husband have helped.

Christina Rochlinski of New Kensington came with her son and two daughters.

“I think it's good,” she said. “They're helping people.”

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4701 or brittmeyer@tribweb.com.

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