Community dinner finds new life; Camp steps in to keep tradition alive

By Austin Jackson | Published Saturday, November 3, 2018

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Dig In

DIG IN – Bridgeport Camp and Conference Center Executive Director Beau Taft stands in the dining hall of the campground where the camp is set to host the Community Thanksgiving Dinner 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday. The camp is located at 3280 F.M. 2952 in Bridgeport. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

For more than 30 years, the First United Methodist Church in Bridgeport facilitated a community Thanksgiving dinner, hosting more than 1,000 people for dinner at Bridgeport High School.

It was a cherished tradition in the community.

Over the years, the strain of the event became too much for the church, which decided to alter its plans to a dinner for its membership this year.

It could have meant the end for the annual event, but thanks to the Bridgeport Camp and Conference Center, the tradition is being kept alive. Tuesday, the campgrounds will host the community Thanksgiving dinner from 5 to 8 p.m.

“They’ve been having over 1,400 people a year come to this event,” said Bridgeport Camp and Conference Center Executive Director Beau Taft. “If it’s just Bridgeport, in a town of 6,000, 1,400 people is a really good turnout. Being so long-standing and such a big part of the community, we just wanted to keep that going. We didn’t want it to just disappear for the community’s sake.”

Taft and his staff took over the task with just four weeks notice. They’ve been working with area churches to put on the event.

“When we found out the church wasn’t going to host it anymore, we knew that if we let a year lapse without it, it would be really hard to gain traction again,” Taft said. “We knew for an event this size, we’re really coming in last minute. But we’ve been scrambling. Just trying to get the word out.”

Laurey Stowe, who’s on the Thanksgiving committee from First United Methodist in Bridgeport said the scale of the event and the amount of to-go orders led them to do some soul searching on how the church can best impact those in need.

“The dinner outgrew our intentions,” Stowe said.

Instead, she said the church is focusing on feeding the needy through their Pantry Express program, which delivers fresh produce to needy families the second Thursday of each month. She said in future years, the church will be interested in helping out with the dinner.

Taft foresees this event becoming a larger scale event that transitions into more of a fall festival than just a dinner.

“The end goal is to turn this back into a community thing,” Taft said. “Perhaps even more than it has been. We want to reach out past Bridgeport to all the other churches that want to be involved and to reach out to other non-profit organizations like W.A.R.M. and other places around. The more awareness we can raise to the needs of the community, the better job we’re doing. We want to utilize this as a springboard for everyone’s goodwill message this holiday season.”

The dinner’s proceeds from the tickets, which are $10 for adults and $7 for children and free for kids age 4 and under, benefit the camp, Decatur First United Methodist Church, Rhome United Methodist Church and Grace Fellowship in Paradise.

While the food order has already been placed, and pre-sale tickets have already been sold, he urged those interested in attending the dinner to call 940-683-2555 or email so they will have a good idea of how many people will be attending.

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