Cooking for a cause
First Christian Church's Navajo taco dinner continuing to grow.
By SCOTT AUST
A long line snaked through the basement, up the stairs and through the front door of the First Christian Church on Saturday with people eager to chow down on a Navajo taco and homemade pie.
The church's 14th annual Navajo taco dinner, featuring authentic Navajo Indian fry bread about the size of a dinner plate topped with beef, beans, lettuce and cheese, was well attended. Last year's event drew 1,200 people. By about 1 p.m., this year's event had served about 1,100 people with more than five hours left in the day.
"We made 1,600 dough balls," Pastor Scott Schurle said. "So I think we're going to get awful close to that number. Turnout has just been awesome today. Obviously, people have been cooped up the past couple of days, and they're coming out. We're happy they're coming out."
Schurle estimated in a conversation on Sunday that 1,530 to 1,550 tickets had been sold.
While the church puts on the annual dinner as a fundraiser, none of the money raised goes to the church. Schurle said that last year, $24,000 was raised from the event, all for local charities.
"Local is the key word there. We give all the profits away. We don't keep a penny here," he said. "We lose a lot of money doing it, but we don't mind because it's part of our ministry and mission, so whatever it costs us, we don't care. Whatever we get, we send out."
Some of the charities helped in the past include Russell Child Development, Family Crisis Missions, Emmaus House, Miles of Smiles, Seeds of Hope, Habitat for Humanity, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, H.O.P.E. Puppets, ABC Pregnancy Care Center, CASA, and Relay for Life.
Church member Annette Frank said the idea for the dinner came about 15 years ago when a group of church women attended a conference in Denver. On the way back, the ladies talked about the lack of a fundraising chicken dinner or pancake feed like several other churches do.
Frank recalled her husband's aunt did missionary work in the Four Corners area of Arizona and New Mexico, where they do a fry bread benefit, and thought it might be a good thing to try in Garden City as a church dinner fundraiser.
"The third year, it just snowballed," Frank said. "People understand this all goes back to our community, not to our church. For us as a church to do that, it's what churches are supposed to do, is to serve. We hope it's something they enjoy."
Frank believes people keep coming back, and the event continues to grow, not only because it is a good cause, but because the meal is prepared fresh.
"The cow was butchered this week, and everything is cut this morning — the cheese, the lettuce. We make the bread and fry it fresh," she said. "It takes a lot of TLC."
Schurle said the only ingredient different from the original Navajo taco is the church uses Kansas beef instead of mutton. Otherwise, the church follows the recipe to the letter.
"It's just really good. Takes just about a minute to fry it up to a nice golden brown and holds the meat and juice and everything, so look out," he said. "We've kept our prices the same the past five years. We want to give everybody a good meal for not much money."
Prices for the dinner were $6 in advance or $7 at the door.
In addition to the taco, the church had 279 pies for the event. Schurle said about 50 to 55 people volunteered throughout the day to cook, prepare meals, clear tables and take tickets. Schurle said some local businesses also made donations for the event, including U.S. Foods, Garden City Co-op, Neil Hawley insurance, and Heartland Mills in Marienthal, which donated the flour for the fry bread.
Every dollar the church gets in a corporate donation like those, Schurle said, helps reduce costs, which allows more dollars to flow to charity.
At the end of the dinner, the church conducted a live auction featuring a variety of items, including three hand-sewn quilts.
But the main auction item this year was a special, hand-crafted olive wood nativity purchased by church member Gale Frank a few months ago during a trip to Israel.
Three brothers named Zacharia, who operate a family workshop located behind the Nativity Church in Bethlehem, carved the nativity, which features 9-inch tall figurines. Frank donated the nativity to the church specifically for the auction.
"People are very generous at the auction," Schurle said. "This is our third or fourth year of doing it. People have been so generous because they know it's going to the right place"
The nativity sold for $3,450. Final numbers won't be calculated until about mid-week, but Schurle is optimistic the church will have met its goal to break $30,000 overall this year.
Schurle said the dinner continues to grow each year. It started with a tiny cook trailer that served only about 200 people the first year. While lines are longer now, everyone seems happy.
"They're so gracious. I know it takes a little longer and standing's hard, but they know it's a good cause. They're not only coming to eat, they're coming to help with a good cause," he said.
Next year's Navajo Taco Dinner is scheduled for Feb. 22, 2014.