COLUMBIA — Even though Thanksgiving is more than a week away, turkey and stuffing lined a Columbia table this weekend when 80 people — friends and friends of friends — gathered at MU Sunday.
This was the menu: four deep-fried turkeys, one ham, 100 servings of stuffing, seven pans of mashed potatoes, two batches of sweet potatoes, eight fruit pies and four green bean casseroles.
This is what it cost: $450.
“I’ve never prepared anything for more than 30 or 40 people,” said Beca Hughes, who organized this year’s dinner with Eric Farthing. “It was interesting to prepare for 100.”
Now in its third year, the pre-Thanksgiving tradition started with 30 people, and expanded to 70 last year.
Initially, members of the group were affiliated with Campus Crusade for Christ, or CRU. After the first year, the meal became so popular it began to attract friends of friends.
This year, the invitation list had 150 names on it.
Originally, the dinner was a potluck, with everyone bringing a dish. “It was a good time, good food and it was free,” Hughes said.
Once the event began to grow, the group was divided into the cooks and the non-cooks, who donate $5 each toward expenses.
Farthing and Hughes refer to the assembled crowd as their “other family.”
“We go home to have Thanksgiving every year with our immediate family,” Hughes said. “But our lives are here (in Columbia). Everything we go through, we go through with the people around us.”
The Thanksgiving dinner has always been held in a house at 1420 University Ave. called the Beaut and now shared by four roommates: Alicia Shamburg, Samantha Harmon, Amy Allen and Julie Miller.
“We lived in the house when it all started,” said Lauren Wooldridge, who once roomed at the Beaut but has since moved elsewhere.
“We were like ‘let's do it again.’ Even though we don’t live in the house anymore, we still get to do it. The tradition stays alive."
Organizers shopped for groceries on Friday and arranged ingredients in bags to drop off at the houses where the food was prepared.
Guests living in off-campus housing units were assigned cooking duties. Those at the Beaut, for example, made rolls and the green bean casseroles.
Three houses, each with their own nick names, were also sites where the feast took shape.
At the Citadel in northeast Columbia, residents spent six hours frying the turkeys. At the Villa on Burnham Road, Hughes and her roommates prepared stuffing and sweet potatoes. At the Cotton House, also on University Avenue, cooks prepared the mashed potatoes and other guests around the city brought pies and side dishes to share.
“It’s amazing how our friends will step up,” Hughes said. “It’s cool to see how people care about other people and are willing to help.”
Tradition calls for a Bible reading and a prayer before dinner. Afterward, the women always get their food first.
When the meal started at 6 p.m., two lines formed on either side of a long brown table to scoop turkey, potatoes and stuffing onto their plates. By 9, there was little left except turkey bones and dirty dishes.
Every year, the veterans of the feast include newcomers in different parts of the supper, such as shopping.
“We want to make sure something happens so someone steps up,” Hughes said.
The hope is that by including younger friends, interest in the tradition will carry on. The group strives to keep the traditional Thanksgiving meal alive long after the dishes have been cleared away.