Servers brings meals to the tables set up in Saint Philip’s gym.
Servers brings meals to the tables set up in Saint Philip’s gym.

It’s beautiful sign when word meets deed in a gracious manner. That has been a tradition on Thanksgiving Day at St. Philip the Apostle Parish in Millersville for 35 years.

When you drive south on Millersville Road crossing over the meandrous Little Conestoga Creek, you ascend up a steep hill that takes you into the college town. And what greets you atop that summit is a visible sign that states: St. Philip’s Thanksgiving Dinner: All Are Welcome.

In 1985, Father Michael Homola, then St. Philip’s pastor, urged several of his devoted parishioners to start a Thanksgiving Dinner that would freely serve the community, no matter the recipients’’ creed. That first year, some 100 meals were served. Three and a half decades later, the parish now offers a turkey dinner with all the delicious trimmings to more than 700 people in the eastern Lancaster region. Present throughout all 35 years has been Charlie Sauer, who now has three generations of his family helping to prepare and serve the meals.

“This beautiful thing started because of Father Homola, because he wanted to do something for the community,” Sauer said has his team of 30 helpers busily prepared plates and served tables for the more than 300 gathered in the parish gym. The parish also provides meals to the homebound and to local long-term care facilities to help ease the meal burden for them on Thanksgiving.

“This takes four key groups working together to bring this all together,” Mr. Sauer said. “And it keeps growing and growing.”

Not only does the parish cook all the meals from scratch – that means homemade gravy, buttered carrots, mashed potatoes, corn and green beans – it also brings in 28 turkeys that are generously cooked at nearby Millersville University, which Sauer said makes the abundant meal possible. “We could not do this without their help of preparing the turkeys,” he said.

The effort is also served by a couple who faithfully drive the homebound meals throughout the area; the gym is transformed into a big dining room that allows family units to sit together and enjoy the meal. Finally, all the meals are served hot and ready, brought directly to the tables. A slice of pumpkin pie with whipped cream tops it off. It’s easy to see that the little things done well at Saint Philip’s are what makes the big meal the success it has become.

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What’s also visible is that the day is not truly about the meal, it’s about the kind welcome you kindly upon entering that is the true sign this parish thankfully gives to the community.

By Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness