Nov 9, 2006

Origin Of Election Day Supper Eludes Organizers

Seems they have oyster dinners in Virginia on Election Day too. This
could make for an interesting article.


Origin Of Election Day Supper Eludes Organizers Posted 2006-11-07

Turkey, Oyster Dinner A Church Tradition
By Kelly Jasper

HARRISONBURG — Every Election Day, members of Donovan Memorial United
Methodist Church bake 60 homemade pies, carve 77 pounds of turkey and
fry 12 gallons of oysters.

Why? Because it's always been done that way.

Turkey and oyster suppers have long been a fundraiser for Valley
churches, where the traditional meal is prepared for hundreds of
diners on Election Day.

Yet, the origin of the meal remains elusive.

Some say the tradition is unique to the Valley but others speculate
that churches everywhere probably hold similar suppers — and those
that don't should because it's such an effective fundraiser,
organizers say.

At about $10 a plate, churches like Donovan Memorial are able to pull
in thousands of dollars a year, which they donate or use for
equipment, like refrigerators to house all those turkeys.

For several hours Monday night, volunteers from area churches gathered
at their churches to prepare the meals.

There's always a lot of work to be done, said Nancy Strawderman of
Donovan Memorial.

Luckily, she adds, these shellfish come shucked.

A Time Of Fellowship

In Timberville Monday, organizers ran around town picking up the final
supplies for their feast.

The Timberville Church of the Brethren will host its annual
Turkey/Oyster Supper from 3:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

The church served 379 people last year, said supper committee member
Goldie Showalter. Today, they've cooked up 12 turkeys and 13 or 14
gallons of oysters.

"We try to get the whole church involved," she said. "It brings us
closer together."

Strawderman, 60, of Singers Glen, agreed. "The whole church does it," she said.

And, on Election Day, it helps bring together a community amid all the
tension and debate of politics, she said, adding that the supper also
reminds folks to get out and vote.

"We'll go out and vote between the meals," Strawderman said. The
organizers will come back wearing their stickers. "If we don't see
everybody's stickers, we say, 'hey, why aren't you out there and

With the whole church helping, organizers said the supper takes a lot
of planning. Even though the menu doesn't change, Showalter said her
church started coordinating the event in September.

Most organizers say they don't know why they prepare the menu of
turkey and oysters — it's just what they've always done.

"It's just what tradition is," Showalter said. "We've always done it
and it's always been Election Day."

Historian Dale MacAllister has a few clues.

A Rare Treat

As far back as he remembered, MacAllister says fried chicken has
always been the after-church snack of choice. He says that decades ago
other meats were a treat, especially at church events.

That trend might help explain the unique turkey-oyster combination
that dominates the church's modern fundraisers, said MacAllister,
president of the Harrisonburg Rockingham Historical Society.

Back then, turkey was associated with the holidays. The fowl wasn't
always available to eat on a daily basis as it is today, MacAllister

And, he says, fresh oysters were somewhat rare in the earlier half of
the 20th century. Serving the two side-by-side turned it into a
special treat, said MacAllister, 59, of Singers Glen.

"It could have just as well been fried chicken" but as long as turkey
and oysters sold well, churches stuck with it, he said. "No sense
tinkering with success."

The meals probably started long before the tradition was roped in with
elections. MacAllister said they might have been held a few times a
year — as they sometimes still are — but got tied to elections because
they were so popular.

MacAllister said he remembers going to the suppers in the '50s, when
the event was already well-established.

MacAllister, a member of Donovan Memorial, documented the church's
history in a 200-page record. While he remembers the suppers as a
long-standing fundraiser for the church, there's only a paragraph
devoted to the event in the entire church history.

His grandmother was the postmaster at Singers Glen's post office and
store, where the suppers were first held.

The event has grown, with more than 200 people visiting the church's
supper each year.

Donovan Memorial United Methodist Church in Singers Glen will host its
Oyster and Turkey Dinner (with ham, just to spice things up this year)
today from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and again at 4 p.m.

A third Turkey and Oyster Buffet will be held at the Keezletown United
Methodist Church from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and again at 4 p.m.

Contact Kelly Jasper at 574-6273 or

Paula L. DeStefano

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