The Grange food stop: ‘A really nice place to be’

Delaware State News/Marc Clery

 

HARRINGTON — Near as anyone can tell, it’s 58 years and counting.

Closing in on six decades of serving chicken dinners and more at the Delaware State Fair, The Grange food stop is a Diamond State institution.

An operation that began serving from a small shack next to a long-standing Sycamore tree now requires 100 volunteers daily for a two-week stretch each July.

The long wooden picnic table-style seating can host 300 or more patrons at a time “depending on how friendly everyone wants to get,” according to Michael Lynch, chairman of The Grange food committee.

On Friday afternoon, Lewes resident Carol Coggins sat with friends while devouring a hamburger she described as “awesome.”

The burger meat came from Cordel Farm in Smyrna. Holly Farms supplied this year’s chicken, Woodside Farm Creamery of Hockessin provided the vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice cream, Papen Farms of Dover grew the corn and Godfrey’s Farm produced the tomatoes in Sudlersville, Md.
Both Ms. Coggins and fellow Lewes resident Shirley Brooks hadn’t been to the state fair in almost 10 years. They were guided there by Dover resident Kenny Schuyler, who was also away and said “it’s just as good as I remember.”

As Ms. Brooks chewed through a mid-afternoon meal, she commented, “so far, so good.”

Along with the excellent servings, Mr. Lynch believes the sandy floor in The Grange building is a welcome alternative to heated asphalt on the worst weather days at the fair.

“If it’s 99 degrees and 99 percent humidity outside, it feels a lot cooler in here,” he said.

Last year’s proceeds grossed $85,000 and provided a significant portion of the Delaware Grange’s annual operational budget. The agricultural based, fraternal, charitable, community-minded organization has 400 members in 16 local chapters throughout the state, according to Mr. Lynch.

Youthful assistance

Taking a quick break, Woodbridge High senior and Future Farrmers of America member Beth Manlove had nearly completed her seventh year of supporting the cause.

“People come back year after year,” Ms. Manlove said. “It’s nice to see them since they remember you and you remember them. They return because they want to and are happy when they are here. It’s just a really nice place to be.”

The annual trip to Harrington is truly a way of life.

“I’m to the point that I don’t need to be reminded,” Woodbridge High rising junior Tanner Hollis said.

Schoolmate Jaycie Kerrick, entering senior year, added, “It’s just one thing to check off the list.”

While FFA and 4-H members earn service hour requirements, there’s also the possibility of a $1,000 scholarship awarded annually by the Delaware Grange, along with two scholarships each to students bound for the University of Delaware and Delaware State University.

Even as high schoolers work with senior citizens during a July heat, there’s no sense of stress or tension, only teamwork.

“There’s a family atmosphere that’s always welcoming,” Ms. Kerrick said. “if something happens like you spill something they don’t get mad at you, they say that’s OK and help you clean it up.”

With just a few hours invested, Mr. Hollis believes he can “push on through” the days when the building heats up.

“The work is not very hard,” he said. “You look around and so many people can help you; all you have to do is ask, you’re never on your own.”

According to Grange Worker Coordinator Barbara Narvel, whose husband Chip is the lead chicken cook, the school-age kids who peel the potatoes and shuck th corn to begin the day are irreplaceable and “we couldn’t do this without them.

“We do try to tell them how much we appreciate them, at least I do.”

Following those before them, Grange volunteers believe in the food delivery system because it’s worked so well before.

“Thank goodness for all the predecessors who established the routine like the line that just flows,” said Ms. Narvel, who has worked the building since 1994.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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