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Sewickley United Methodist Church readies for 70th annual event

| Monday, Jan. 22, 2018, 11:00 p.m.

What's better than gathering with family and loved ones on Thanksgiving, enjoying a perfectly cooked bird and all of its delicious embellishments?

A second Thanksgiving, of course.

On Feb. 8, the Sewickley United Methodist Church will host its 70th Turkey Dinner, offering takeout and three dine-in seatings.

Donna Sawhill, parishioner and one of the key organizers for the event, said the dinner is something her church and many people in the community have looked forward to for the past seven decades.

“I remember attending this event in the 1950s,” said Sawhill, a retired teacher for Quaker Valley. “It started with the Bradley Family. Mrs. Bradley — I don't recall her first name because we all just called her ‘Mrs. Bradley' —and her family would prepare whole meals for the church.”

Now, the dinner has around 80 people who help, some aren't even members.

Belinda Resler is a member of the dinner's committee and said holding the event in February is a good way to break up the monotony of winter.

“This event is just one of the ways we try to thank the community,” Resler said. “We've lowered the price of tickets from $15 down to $12. In celebration of our 70th year, and just to say, ‘thanks for your support.'”

And for $12, you get 4 ounces of white meat turkey, 2 ounces of dark meat turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, coleslaw, green beans, cranberry sauce, rolls, a choice of pie, coffee and soft drinks.

The best part?

“Everything is made from scratch,” Sawhill confirmed.

The process is a thorough one, and everyone has a specific job, Sawhill said.

“On Wednesday night, men and women peel potatoes and cut into small pieces. They get mashed. We bought 170 pounds of potatoes. We have a group of 12 to 15 people that tear the bread for stuffing,” Sawhill said.

With 34 turkeys provided at a discounted rate by Lou Safran (owner of Safran's Supermarket in Sewickley) being prepared by parishioners and deboned by Jack Morrow of Moon Township, the gravy is even prepared from scratch.

Morrow, 92, has been volunteering for the turkey dinner committee since 1990. And one thing he can guarantee?

“You can't ever please everyone with the gravy,” he said, smiling.

Sandra Kuriger, committee member and mom to the trained chef who prepares the gravy, said she has only every heard positive feedback from the dinner. She has spent years in the dining hall during the dinner, and said the response from the community is wonderful.

“People love the meals,” Kuriger said. “We've always heard that the food is good.”

Nothing is wasted, Sawhill added. Unused portions of turkey, stuffing, gravy and green beans are frozen and donated to the Center for Hope in Ambridge, providing an additional 150 meals. Perishable leftovers — such as potatoes, coleslaw and bread — are donated that evening to the Light of Life Rescue Mission in Pittsburgh.

Morrow said there was a time where the future of the turkey dinner was uncertain, though, which makes this milestone of 70 years even more special.

“It used to be known as the ‘Men's Turkey Dinner,'” Morrow said. “In the '80s, we almost stopped because one of the parishioners who was involved didn't want to give away his secrets for prep of the turkey. We found a way to keep it going.”

The committee's solution for the future: explicit instructions that can be found in a three-ring binder that clearly lists instructions for the event. Kuriger flipped through the book while Sawhill pointed to a chart that allows parishioners to donate time, funds or items for the event.

With around 350 people in the congregation, discounts from Safran on the turkeys and pies, monetary donations from church members and many sets of hands, the event usually earns between $3,500-4,000.

“We feel like our church is integral with the community,” Sawhill said. “We are part of Sewickley.”

The best part about taking advantage of a delicious meal prepared with love and awareness of the smallest details?

“You don't even have to calculate a tip,” Morrow said, laughing.

Christina Sheleheda is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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