■ BY SUE ERWIN
It’s that time of year again to enjoy fluffy pancakes, scrambled eggs, sausages, grits and fellowship at the Boca Grande Lighthouse United Methodist Church.
The laborious efforts to create those delectable breakfasts begin the night before with several volunteers.
Chef and greeter Dan O’Connell goes to the church on Wednesday evenings to get everything prepped. He takes the bread out of the freezer and gets the coffee area ready.
“Kids from the youth group come and set the utensils on the table, and they bring the big coffee pots out to the tables by the door,” O’Connell said. “And J.T. Turner shows up each week to help set up and make the grits.”
Jim Crawford is the volunteer coordinator for the breakfasts.
“We have about 60 volunteers right now, and we welcome and want new members of the church to come and participate,” Crawford said.
O’Connell, along with many other volunteers, returns to the church at 6 a.m. Thursday to get things cooking.
In the kitchen, a crew is assembled to work each station. Pancake makers Richard Klepser and Dennis Doan get the batter going. John Mitchell is the egg cracker, and this is his seventh year volunteering at the church. He cracked 640 eggs on Thursday (yesterday), which was the first breakfast of the season. Becca DeRosa was busy at the stove scrambling eggs for servers to scoop onto plates. Bob Elliot spent years browning sausages, and now he attends the events to socialize and catch up with friends.
“I really enjoyed cooking for the people,” Elliot said. “One year we had a rowing crew from a Catholic high school in Pittsburgh, and they came for breakfast after practicing on the bayou and cleaned us out.”
And of course there is the very important kitchen cleanup crew led by Nick Kaiser.
O’Connell refers to the events as “radical hospitality.”
“We welcome everyone,” he said. “We are here for the community.”
Boca Grande United Methodist Church is a mission-driven church. Money raised at the fundraiser breakfasts goes back to the local community as well as international organizations.
Much of the money raised last year went to Kids Needs in Englewood, Young Life and the Port Charlotte Homeless Coalition. The church donates about $500,000 a year to various organizations.
Some of the missions the church partners with are Agape Flights, which provides aviation service delivering mail and humanitarian aid; Cuba Sister Churches, which is a partnership with two Methodist Churches in Cuba to aid in pastoral assistance, feeding programs and outreach; and Twelve Churches, a ministry to aid, equip and train pastors, sustainable farming to support children’s feeding programs, and volunteer medical health teams to serve those in need in Nicaragua.
It all started in 1984 with Mary Nell Elrod doing the cooking and Becky Sherman, Nancy Sholley and husband Peter helping serve. Becky was in charge and did all the shopping for the food. The first breakfast had one full table. Yesterday they served about 120 people.
“And this was a slow day because it was cold outside, so people didn’t want to use their golf carts,” said O’Connell. “In total, I think we served about 1,000 people last year.”
There are 13 tables in the church social room that seat 130 people. The volunteers have served as many as 300 meals on one morning during spring break season.
“We did six breakfasts last year, but since Easter is so late this year, we are doing seven,” O’Connell said.
The breakfasts are offered from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. They serve all you care to eat. A free-will offering is suggested to help with mission efforts. The final breakfast of this season will be Thursday, April 18, the day before Good Friday.
The church is located at 325 3rd St. W. in Boca Grande.
The breakfasts are the church’s second-largest fundraiser each year, following the Strawberry Festival.
O’Connell said the pancake breakfasts are an extension of the community.
“Everyone enjoys participating, and it brings the community together,” he said. “And it’s become the place be on Thursday mornings in Boca Grande.”
Photos by Sue