By Sage Pitman
In years past, Christ Covenant has cultivated a much-loved tradition: Chicken Dinner. The Friday morning before Thanksgiving break, upper schoolmen, parents, and community volunteers plate half of a chicken, green beans, potatoes, and a roll and run the dinners out to cars.
Traditionally, Chicken Dinner is held at the lower school. But with a new, larger campus there is more room for grills, the plate assembly line, and order pick-up line. This year ran more like “a well-oiled machine,” as upper school teacher Tom Jones said. Even as dress down Fridays have eased the minds of stressed students, this particular Friday evokes great excitement every year.
This year, Sam Jones Barbecue of Winterville provided eight grills and three of their own cooks, including Sam Jones himself. It was a great honor for CCS to have barbecue professionals as they taught the returning volunteers about wood fired grilling. Sam Jones cooks prepared the wood-fired grills from when they arrived at the upper school at 5:00 p.m. on Thursday until after clean up on Friday. Sam Jones was “delighted to volunteer,” according to headmaster Robert Lee, as he “often travels all over the world sharing his culinary expertise in such places as Sweden and Hawaii.” Other restaurant owners including Basil’s, Yankee Hall Catering and the Dixie Queen also donated time and supplies for the event.
Volunteers ignited their grills at 3:00 a.m. College sports team chairs dusted the side yard of the school, cradling volunteers shivering with crossed arms. Reinforcements would not arrive until 8:00 a.m. when members of the National Honor Society and upper school teachers began preparing for the dinner-box assembly line.
Radio station 98.3 the Bridge also made its first appearance at Chicken Dinner. By broadcasting play-by-plays and interviewing students from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., the Bridge publicized the school’s event. “It helped people know more about our school, and why we do what we do. Our goal was to get traffic. The Bridge provided a good way for us to get our name out in the community,” Lee said.
After hundreds of sauce containers were neatly and evenly stacked, volunteers were gloved, and the chicken was cooked to palatable perfection, everyone assumed their chosen stations. “I helped hand out chicken and poured green beans into the boxes. It was a lot of fun,” eleventh grader Jackson Packard said.
By 11:00 a.m., a few hundred plates were packaged. Volunteers were then divided between the assembly line and delivery to the pick up line. Upper school teacher Joel Grimm directed buyers to the front and used walkie-talkies to communicate the number of plates to runners. “I loved just getting to interact with all the people who came through the line and thank them for coming out to help out our school. Some were lower school families; others were from the community coming to support the school,” Grimm said.
Seven students swiftly ran in and out of the school-turned-factory, delivering and picking up finished dinners. “Taking the food out to the cars was a lot different than before. At first it was basically just a calamity. Basically we would run in…[twelfth grader] Olivia [Warren] would hand us boxes and we would run out back to the cars, trying to do it as fast as we could,” eleventh grader Kyle Griffin said.
Around 2:00 p.m., things died down and parents lined up outside for their children rather than chicken. The gymnasium classes volunteered to clean the cookware.
“We all split up. Some people had coolers—you know, the ones with sauce in them—and we were just scrubbing those out. My mom said I really smelled like vinegar when she picked me up,” eighth grader Blythe Bacon said. The middle school gymnasium class scoured 9 50-gallon coolers, grimy with chicken grease and homemade barbecue sauce.
Remaining boxes were driven to the lower school and sold in the pick up line. The grills and SUVs cleared out of the school side yard by 4:00 p.m. and the last vague traces of the tradition could only be smelled. Chicken Dinner came and went so quickly, though memories of barbecued birds and sauce stains will linger awhile longer.