OCEAN CITY — Fifteen turkeys, 60 pounds of sweet potatoes, 35 pounds of string beans, 30 pounds of stuffing, 10 pounds of carrots, 200 dinner rolls, a week’s worth of preparation and too many pies and volunteers to count.

That’s what it takes to put together St. John Lutheran Church’s annual Thanksgiving dinner, a free traditional holiday meal that will feed 200 to 300 people this afternoon.

The annual dinner is made possible through food and monetary donations from local individuals and businesses. This year, the church will host its 34th annual Thanksgiving dinner, which for almost a decade has been led by St. John’s Social Ministry Committee and Chef Michael McSweeny, an Ocean City resident and the executive sous chef at Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort in Atlantic City.

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“I have a firm belief when you’re cooking for a large group you don’t want to get funky with flavors,” McSweeny said of preparing the gigantic feast. “What we will make is what your grandmother used to prepare. It’s just a big slice of home.”

McSweeny became involved with the volunteer opportunity after Carol Piechoski, then-president of the Social Ministry Committee, called him at the casino and asked whether he’d like to help.

“It was a cold call into my office,” he said, “but they needed help and I was happy to do it. Charity doesn’t have to be your dollars. I’m not even Lutheran, but they’re my neighbors.”

After volunteering the first year, McSweeny decided to make it a tradition.

“It’s very humbling to see all of the people together spending the holiday over a traditional turkey dinner with all the fixings,” he said.

From Monday to Wednesday, dozens of volunteers spent their days and evenings gathered in the church kitchen preparing the hefty meal. They’re hoping for a good turnout today and said everyone is welcome, regardless of whether they are in need of a free meal.

“It’s partly to provide for the needy, but it’s just as equally for the people who maybe don’t have family in the area, so no one is alone on the holiday,” said Barbara Piston, an Ocean City resident and member of the church who has been helping with the dinner for about five years.

Susy Wilkins, a resident of Beesleys Point and member of the church who has volunteered for about 15 years, said it’s heartwarming to see so many people come together for a Thanksgiving meal.

“It fits the needs of so many people for so many different reasons,” she said. “It’s the whole community, all denominations, all ages, together.”

McSweeny said it’s about community.

“From the older ladies who spend the whole night cleaning the pots and pans I dirty up, to the little kids who plate the desserts, that’s what Thanksgiving is all about,” he said.

Contact Elisa Lala:

609-272-7260

@ElisaLala on Twitter

Press copy editor since 2006, copy desk chief since 2014. Masters in journalism from Temple University, 2006. My weekly comics blog, Wednesday Morning Quarterback, appears Wednesday mornings at PressofAC.com.

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