Annual Home Products Dinner a community effort
By ANGIE HAFLICH
ULYSSES — There's no doubt that the annual Grant County Home Products Dinner is a big event, as evidenced by the hundreds of people who attend each year.
Tuesday's 51st annual dinner was no exception.
But it wouldn't be possible without the many volunteers — close to 700 each year — who pitch in to help.
"It's wonderful the way the community pulls together. It wouldn't happen without everybody doing their part," said Lynda Chaffey, former Home Products Committee member who helped organize this year's volunteers. "I think there's like 70 different organizations with churches and clubs and things like that. There's a lot of people pitching in to make it all happen."
Three of this year's volunteers were from the same family.
"Our family started doing this — it started when my son was in Boy Scouts and after he graduated and went on to trade school, my husband and I took this over and have been doing it with our kids' help for at least 25 years," Julie Meier said.
The Meiers are in charge of the iced tea each year, with help from Julie's friend, Janice Smith.
"We're best friends, best buds. We went to grade school together," Smith said.
The family tradition began with Travis Meier, now 41, who started helping out as a Boy Scout when he was 12. On Tuesday night, he was making the tea outside and then bringing it in to set on the table.
"It's fun getting to see people you only see once or twice a year," he said.
As he, his mother and Smith provided iced tea, Travis' son, 12-year-old Austin Meier, was directing cars to their rightful parking spots. At one point, he even did jumping jacks to get a driver's attention.
Prior to letting the general public in to eat at 7 p.m., senior citizens from Ulysses, Johnson City, Syracuse, Satanta and Sublette were served at their tables by members of the local 4-H club.
"They volunteer every year to serve the senior citizens," Chaffey said. "We seat them in there, and they have entertainment and the kids carry their plates into them."
The meal served each year is the same: barbecue beef, scalloped potatoes, baked pinto beans, candied sweet squash, cherry tomatoes, sweet corn, whole wheat rolls, strawberry jam, watermelon and milo donuts.
All of the food is locally grown and donated by farmers, churches and other organizations that handle food preparation, which begins the Monday prior to the event.
Marieta Hauser of the Ulysses Chamber of Commerce said the beans are typically cooked at Ulysses High School, the potatoes are cooked at various churches and the corn is heated at the Grant County Civic Center, where the meal is served each year.
Prior to the dinner, David Waldron, a retired teacher and former Jaycee member, picked up squash, corn and potatoes.
"This morning, I was in here peeling potatoes," he said.
A large number of volunteers help serve the meal, as well. Veronica Garcia and her son, 18-year-old Zach Miller, both with the Church of Christ, have been helping to serve the food for several years.
Garcia said her favorite part of serving is greeting the people who come to eat.
"I really just like the eating part," Zach said, laughing.
The cost is $7 per meal, which also includes a collector button and live entertainment. Dinner proceeds sponsor the Grant County Scholarship Foundation, and in the past 15 years, the event has raised more than $100,000 in scholarship proceeds.
The event's theme this year was "Heartland of America."
This year's guest speaker was Allison Massari, a personal coach, entrepreneur and award-winning artist.
Massari found remarkable success and happiness out of a tragedy in which she was buried alive, and shared with those on hand how to triumph despite their own tragedies, succeed in turbulent times, and create their own paths to success and happiness.
The Home Products Dinner originated from the idea that one could sustain himself and his family entirely on food produced from their own farm, and unofficially began in 1941 when State Rep. Will Christian told his fellow legislators that he and his family were completely self-reliant and that everything they needed to sustain themselves could be produced on their own farm. To prove it, he invited a select group of them to his home for dinner. This became a tradition that continued until Christian retired.
In 1962, the Ulysses Chamber of Commerce and some community members revived the get-together. Since then, the event has grown in popularity, drawing as many as 1,500 people from across southwest Kansas, as well as representatives, senators and other government officials from across the state.