Out & About: The beef is coming back to Hartland church

By LIZ SAUCHELLI

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 12-10-2022 10:31 PM

Over the last couple years, Hartland resident Linda Genovese has repeatedly fielded an important question by community members: When are the roast beef suppers coming back?

Now, Genovese has an answer: The regionally lauded Hartland Roast Beef Suppers will be returning to the First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ — also known as the Brick Church — in late January or early February 2023, bringing back a decades-long tradition that was suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We know it was such a popular event in Hartland that we’re making an attempt to get it going again,” said Genovese, who has volunteered for the suppers for more than 40 years.

The last string of roast beef suppers were held in 2020 and concluded just before the COVID-19 pandemic began. That year, there were six suppers held on consecutive Saturdays, down three from past years. When the suppers return this coming winter, there will be only a couple.

“This is a way to dip our toes back into it and just do these two,” said the Rev. Amy Davin, who joined the church a little over two years ago and is eager to experience her first roast beef supper.

On Giving Tuesday — the Tuesday after Thanksgiving where nonprofit organizations solicit donations — the church community made the decision to ask for money to bring the suppers back. It raised $2,700.

“Finding volunteers is one thing, but just with inflation everything is so expensive,” Davin said. “We did that so we can offset the cost so we can bring them back.”

Food prices have risen quite a bit since the suppers were last held, Genovese said. The cost of roast beef alone has doubled.

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“We’re not quite sure what the profit margin is going to be at this supper. We know it’s going to be much lower than it was,” Genovese said.

In addition to reducing the number of suppers, the committee has made other changes. In the past, people could show up and wait in the church’s sanctuary for one of the three seatings. This year, they’re asking people to reserve time slots in advance so they can better manage crowd flow and better control costs.

“At 4:30 we could have over 200 people in the sanctuary ready to go,” Genovese said.

In previous years, the dinners could draw between 225 to 300 people per night. When the suppers return, there will be three time slots available for 80 people each — or 240 each night.

Another challenge is getting volunteers. While the suppers are hosted by the church, people who aren’t members regularly assist year after year.

“It’s definitely a challenge to find people to keep these traditions alive,” Davin said.

There are around 10 to 15 people who work in the kitchen preparing the suppers, in addition to people who set up the dining room and sell tickets, bringing the total to around 30 volunteers per night. That doesn’t even take into account the volunteers who bake 40 to 45 pies for a single night, Genovese said.

There was talk of keeping the suppers going during 2021 and 2022, but the church ultimately decided against it. It’s hard to social distance while cooking in the church’s kitchen and one of the major appeals of the suppers — sitting side by side with other community members — would also be lost.

“Then it was thought that a roast beef supper doesn’t really travel well as takeout,” Genovese said.

The price per meal has yet to be set; that will largely be dependent on how much the food will cost. Updates — including dates and reservations — will be posted online at hartlanducc.org.

“We feel that it’s a valuable event for the community, working together and also eating together,” Genovese said. “We’re hoping that the community is eager to try this out.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.

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