November 23, 2021 401 PM
MARFA — The annual Thanksgiving meal at Saint Paul’s Episcopal was up in the air, Allison Scott told her son Mark over the phone earlier this fall. Allison had been helping organize the event for years — where one and all are invited to partake in a free Thanksgiving meal at the church, often provided potluck style and with a side of church service — but continued risks of indoor gathering threatened the usual run of events.
“I didn’t really think twice about it,” Mark said, at least at first. “Then, I realized a couple days later it meant it just wouldn’t happen.” While he hadn’t been a member of the church since around age 15, he felt like the decades-long tradition warranted saving, and so he sprang to action.
It’s fortunate that Allison’s son is also a professional barbecue purveyor and one of the founders of Convenience West, a barbecue joint on the west side of town. He talked to the crew, who quickly offered up the restaurant to provide the main courses, and the church eagerly got to work planning to support the event with lots of tasty side dishes.
At the time, Mark hadn’t yet realized his grandmother Dorothy Ryan, along with then-preacher Jim Eubanks and his wife Greta, had started the community Thanksgiving meal at the church many decades back. “That was kind of fun to find out and makes it a little more special for myself,” the barbecue pitmaster added.
Greta recounted to Allison this year that when she, her husband and Dorothy had first launched the effort, “I was nervous, but both families pitched in.” Allison’s father, Pat Ryan, was the owner of The Big Bend Sentinel at the time, and advertised the event in the paper to let everyone know it was open to all. The church set up telephone spools as tables and waited for people to arrive. “At that time several families lived at the Paisano Hotel,” Greta recounted, “and we all knew families that were alone. We prayed that we would have food enough. There was plenty.”
St. Paul’s Reverend Mike Wallens said that this year and last year felt too unsafe to hold the traditional indoor gathering. Last year they opted to hand out Thanksgiving boxes, “But we didn’t do what we normally do because of COVID,” Wallens said. This year, they didn’t have the capacity to seat everyone outside, so the partnership with Convenience West became a clear path forward.
The restaurant will supply turkeys and brisket, and Marc Declercq volunteered to fry some additional turkeys. Convenience West’s Kaki Aufdengarten-Scott and Katy Rose Elsasser will make desserts and sides, and more sides will be donated by people who attend the St. Paul’s Episocal Church who have contributed in the past. “It should be a real nice spread,” Mark said.
They also worked with local nutrition center director Edward Cobos to get an updated list of Meals on Wheels recipients, so they can deliver hot Thanksgiving meals that day. Helping out will be some of the regular drivers who have volunteered to help get meals delivered, along with many more helping hands. The food pantry is also donating some veggies from their garden, and the restaurant will have a donation jar out so all of the proceeds can go to the food pantry.
Locals and visitors alike are welcome to join the 10 a.m. Eucharist at Saint Paul’s and partake in the meal, beginning at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday and wrapping up around 3 p.m. at Convenience West. Diners can eat at the restaurant’s outdoor patio or take the food to go, though Mark advised bundling up if planning to dine at the patio, since the forecast is chilly on Thursday.
“It’s just such a big part of this holiday for a lot of local people, but also a lot of tourists when they come into town and they’re looking for a warm meal and friendly faces,” Mark said. “I think it provides so much for locals and tourists alike, and this has been peoples’ Thanksgiving for years.” He worried that if it didn’t return to a more usual form this year that “maybe it’ll just kind of fade away, and I’d hate for that to happen,” he said. “If we can keep it alive, maybe next year they’ll be ready to fire the church back up.”
“If it wasn’t for COVID, we’d be doing it,” Wallens reassured. “But we’re hoping next year it’ll be safe to eat inside. We’re looking forward to going back to the way we’ve done it before — we’re just glad that we can have a community gathering as safely as possible.”