Ministerium Assocation celebrates 30th community Thanksgiving dinner

November 27, 2013
The Greater Canonsburg-Houston Ministerium Association will celebrate its 30th community Thanksgiving dinner today at Canonsburg United Presbyterian Church. - Katherine Mansfield / For the Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Over the past 30 years, the Greater Canonsburg-Houston Ministerial Association’s Thanksgiving dinner has turned into an annual tradition.

So popular is the event that Lynlee Caliguiri, one of the dinner’s organizers and founders, has a waiting list for people who want to help out.

“It’s a nice problem to have. The dinner has become a time for fellowship,” said Caliguiri. “It’s become a place where people can go for Thanksgiving and celebrate with the community.”

Hosted by Canonsburg United Presbyterian Church, the dinner will be held from noon until 2 p.m., and all are welcome to attend; it is not need-based.

Last year, about 60 volunteers worked to pull off the dinner, including those who helped to prepare the food, set the tables and greeted guests at the door. Many of the volunteers, who give up a part of their own holiday at home, return year after year, and among them are a number of families who volunteer together.

The volunteers start about 7 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day, peeling potatoes, slicing pies and making stuffing for the meal that will be served later in the day.

Bob Loutsion, owner of Loutsion’s Catering Service, has long served as head chef for the dinner.

“I enjoy this. The women in my family used to prepare Thanksgiving dinner while I sat and watched the parade, and I didn’t feel great about it,” said Loutsion. “Now, I’m doing something useful. We all enjoy the conversation, the preparation, and serving dinner. Then, I get to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with my family later in the day.”

Loutsion bakes all of the turkeys a couple of days before Thanksgiving and then carves them on Thanksgiving Day. Last year, he cooked 275 pounds of turkey to serve approximately 300 guests.

Loutsion leads preparation of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner, which includes turkey, mashed potatoes, vegetables and all of the fixings.

The dinner is served homestyle.

According to Caliguiri, a variety of guests attend the dinner: some can’t afford a Thanksgiving meal; others can’t prepare a dinner at home on their own; and still others just want company on Thanksgiving.

“That’s the nice thing about it: it’s a real community dinner,” said Caliguiri, noting one older couple whose small apartment can’t accommodate all of their family members, so they bring a dozen people to the dinner.

About 100 takeout meals are served and 100 dinners are delivered to Meals on Wheels recipients by Meals on Wheels drivers, who volunteer their time.

The first community dinner was organized in 1983 to provide a Thanksgiving Day meal for local unemployed steel mill workers and coal miners.

A member of one of the ministerium churches was a manager at a Western Sizzlin’ restaurant, and the first dinner was held there. Different venues hosted the dinner, until Canonsburg U.P. Church became its permanent location.

The dinner is provided free of charge, but donations are accepted and are used to cover the cost of the food.

Several local residents and businesses donate pies and money.

“I’m thankful for the opportunity to help out,” said Loutsion. “It’s a real team effort, and we work so well together to make it a happy Thanksgiving for everyone.”

Karen Mansfield is an award-winning journalist and mom of five who has been a staff writer for the Observer-Reporter since 1988. She enjoys reading, the Pittsburgh Steelers, a good glass of wine and nice people.

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