Mount Prospect Baptist Church members know to keep out of the kitchen when Deacon George Harris is at work.
Harris plied his trade for four decades in food service at Winthrop University. Since his retirement, the self-taught cook has taken on the challenge of preparing the Rock Hill church’s annual Thanksgiving dinner for the community. That means fixing a meal for upward of a hundred people – a task Harris takes on almost by himself.
The hungry crowd in the church’s basement Thursday morning lined up for helpings of turkey, beef and red velvet cake. But back in the kitchen, the chef wouldn’t let on how long it took to put it all together.
“It’s a secret,” he said.
It’s been 10 years now since Harris started making a bigger holiday dinner than most. He got his church family involved because he wanted to forge a connection with his neighbors in the surrounding Hagins-Fewell neighborhood.
“I’m a bachelor, and I decided to do it one day when I saw these folks out here just sitting around,” he said. “So I thought it would be good to come open it up to the public. … I like the fellowship of it.”
For Mount Prospect’s pastor, the Rev. William Ferguson, the dinner is about meeting his community’s spiritual and nutritional needs.
“Today is an opportunity for the church to give to a community that (has) needs,” Ferguson said. “A lot of people would much rather see the Epistles and the Scripture than hear them, so hopefully today is about showing our love for Christ and love for community.”
Mount Prospect’s pastor since 2009, Ferguson has seen the dinner grow each year, and the church planned to have up to 125 people fill its dining area this Thanksgiving.
“But for us it’s not necessarily about the number of people,” he said. “It’s about the church opening its doors and showing the love of Christ.”
Cathy Cassells, who came to the dinner with some neighbors, might be exactly who Harris was hoping to attract to the dinner. With three grown children out of the house, she wanted to do something special for Thanksgiving this year.
“I have one (child) in Virginia Beach, and I don’t get to see him too often,” Cassells said. “I could have cooked something, but I needed a break.”
Enjoying a plate of chicken and dumplings, she praised the cooking while those at surrounding tables chowed down.
“These are good people over here,” she said.
Some of those good people volunteering weren’t even members of the church.
Arthur Mabry and his daughter, Carmella, stopped by just to see if they could help out.
“We saw it in the newspaper and decided to come by and give something back to the community,” Arthur Mabry said.
For Carmella Mabry, who came home from New Jersey to visit for the holidays, the church meal offered an opportunity to do some good before she got to enjoy a family dinner.
“We can carry food, drinks, handle cleanup,” she said. “We’ll do whatever’s needed.”
Behind the scenes, Deacon Harris was glad to spread the work around to the other volunteers giving up part of their Thanksgiving to pitch in. He might run the kitchen, but putting together a dinner like this isn’t a one-man production.
“I’ve got some help,” he said, “if they’re willing to work.”