By NANCY TULLIS
VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU
COLUMBIANA -- The annual chicken barbecue during the Columbiana Street Fair has been the Grace United Church of Christ's largest annual fund-raiser for 27 years.
Congregation members helping to scrub potatoes, fire up the barbecue pit and dole out portions of homemade applesauce and cole slaw Thursday said friends -- working together for a common cause -- have become more important than the dollars raised.
Just before noon Thursday, Tom Bell was starting to empty 24-pound bags of barbecue charcoal into a large pit made from concrete block. He said the group would use about a ton of the stuff over the three days, using about 250 pounds to start.
"It's just like barbecuing in your backyard, but a lot bigger," he said.
Bell said about six people work at the pit at a time and they can cook about 350 chicken halves at a time. It takes about an hour to cook each batch, then the chicken is wrapped in foil and kept in special containers that keep it hot for hours.
"The chicken actually keeps cooking in those containers," he said.
Bell was working the pit alone Thursday morning, but had little doubt there would soon be many helping hands available.
"We don't have a schedule or anything," he said. "People just show up. It's like that all weekend.
"It's a good fund-raiser for the church, but it's also about the only time most of us spend so much time together. The fellowship is great. A lot of the guys take days off work, even schedule their vacations so they can help."
Connie Scullion and Jo Berryman are chairwomen of the event. Scullion said there are ample volunteers for all duties throughout the weekend, and in fact people begin calling her weeks ahead of time.
The group served dinners Thursday and were to begin again today at 4 p.m. The meals are sold until they are sold out, sometimes long before meeting demand.
Scullion said on Saturday they begin serving at noon and will serve about 1,000 dinners.
She declined to state just how much profit there is each year, but said the church makes donations yearly to civic projects such as the Firestone Park playground, to area charities such as Meals on Wheels and for church improvements.
Lots of work
She said members spend about two weeks preparing food for the meals:
UBarbecuing nearly 2,500 chicken halves.
UPeeling, coring, chopping and cooking 16 bushels of apples for homemade applesauce.
UShredding 10 bushels of cabbage and mixing 20 gallons of dressing for homemade cole slaw.
UMixing about 30 gallons of vinegar and other ingredients for barbecue sauce.
UScrubbing and baking thousands of potatoes.
One volunteer in the kitchen Thursday was Elizabeth Flood, who has helped each year for about 10 years. Now 91, she said she anxiously awaits a ride to the church on the first morning of the fair, and stays most of the day.
Flood and Janice Heintzelman, Nan Gongaware and Winnie Elder were filling small plastic cups with sour cream that will be served with the thousands of baked potatoes that will be served over the three days.
"We're having lots of fun," said Heintzelman. "That's the motto of the day."
"That's our motto every day," Gongaware said.
Asked if she has ever eaten the meals, Flood replied with an exuberant "Oh my, yes!"