Griffin is manning one of the many griddles during the 56th annual “Pancake Day” at the First United Methodist Church in Waynesville Tuesday. For the last 25 years, he has been the “designated buckwheat pancake cooker.”
“This is a community event that’s more than just pancakes,” he said. “Everyone enjoys coming out and being a part of this. It is important for a small town.”
As more than 200 volunteers from the church’s congregation await the hungry masses, there’s a real storm outside. But a heavy downpour of rain doesn’t seem to dampen the spirits of these breakfast masters. The show has begun, and it won’t stop until way into Tuesday evening.
“This really brings together the church and the community,” said Steve Brown, one of the head organizers. “It involves so many people, and they look forward to it every year. It’s unbelievable how this has become such a communitywide mission project for us.”
What started in 1957 as a pledge campaign to pay for the construction of an educational wing at the church has evolved into a yearly celebration that seems to not only cure cabin fever but also fill the bellies of any within whiff.
“It has survived like the tradition of the Tuscola/Pisgah football game,” Brown smiled. “Rain or shine, people know that the fourth Tuesday of February is ‘Pancake Day.’ People I don’t see but once a year come out for this.”
In its inaugural year, the group raised $500. Last year, proceeds were upwards of $22,000. More than 3,000 people chowed down on syrup-laden stacks of pancakes, bacon and sausage throughout the day at the bargain price of $7 per adult. The money raised goes towards funding church endeavors, building maintenance and endowment scholarships for people who are either going into the missionary or are pursuing a college degree in a related field of study. The scholarships are in memory of Charlie and MaryAnn Way, longtime volunteers and advocates of “Pancake Day.”
“It lets people come out in the dreary winter, and today was certainly was a tough one with the weather,” said patron Karen Macke.
Despite the rain, innumerable patrons began to trickle in, waving to a friend, relative or neighbor already sitting down, then immediately making a move for the grill line. “Hello” is a friendly word that continuously ricochets around the gymnasium with each new entry.
“You’re late, man,” someone teased to another, though the doors opened just minutes ago.
A few tables down, Erin Patton has attended the event for more than a decade. A chef herself, she likes how food brings together a community.
“The food is delicious, and I don’t have to cook this morning,” she laughed.
Nearby, 11-year-old Emma Leichssenring was all smiles.
“I really like the bacon,” she said reaching for another piece.
Soon, streams of elementary children stepped up to the line. Their eyes were as large as the pancakes themselves. They held up their plates, eager to consume as much of their favorites foods as they could muster.
“Take all you want; we don’t want you to go hungry now,” said one of the volunteers behind the grill.
Back in the kitchen, volunteer Ron Leatherwood was wading through endless trays of bacon. Born and raised in the church, he’s been to every “Pancake Day” since its inception. As a child, he remembers the old cramped quarters where everyone seemed to be stepping on top of each other. Since then, the large gymnasium and full-sized kitchen are optimum for the growing tradition.
“‘Pancake Day’ is truly the essence of a community, where people work together, see their friends, make new ones and celebrate,” he said.
‘Pancake Day’ by the numbers*
Pancake mix: 580 pounds
Bacon: 510 pounds
Sausage: 415 pounds
Butter: 160 pounds
Syrup: 55 pounds
Coffee: 34 pounds
Milk: 1,820.5 pints
* Numbers from 2012 event