In 2014, Cliff Simmons said he was organizing his last chicken and noodle dinner for St. Paul’s United Methodist Church.
At the time he was 81 and had been helping to put the fundraising dinner together since the 1960s. It was someone else’s turn, he said as he led the congregation through noodle making, chicken picking, potato mashing and pie baking.
He told a similar story in 2015.
Now, on the eve of the 70th annual event, Simmons is still in charge. He’s 83 and still hauling around truckloads of pie plates and hundreds of pounds of flour. But this, he said, is his last year organizing the dinner.
And this time he means it.
“I guarantee you this is going to be my last year,” he said. “And I know that’s what I said last year and the year before and the year before. But I’m worn out.”
Simmons, who said it’s possible his daughter might step up to fill the position, said the dinner is the most important event that happens at his church each year. It draws around 2,500 people, who pay $10 each to dine in or carry out a meal that includes homemade chicken and noodles, mashed potatoes, coleslaw and pie. Last year, the dinner raised around $23,000 for the church, and the funds are used by the men’s club and women’s guild to supplement the church budget and finance missions.
Simmons, who’s been running the dinner for longer than he can remember, starts the process in October. He negotiates prices with food providers and shops sales to gather up the pounds, dozens and gallons of chicken, turkey, eggs, flour, cabbage, Miracle Whip and evaporated milk it takes to put the dinner together. This year, he purchased 270 dozen eggs, 900 pounds of flour and about 556 pounds each of turkey and chicken.
Last weekend, about 35 church members gathered to make the noodles, which were spread out to dry all over folding tables in the church. Four generations of Simmons’ family participated on noodle day, including his wife, his daughter, his granddaughter and his great-granddaughter.
Earlier this week, a smaller crew of core volunteers gathered to cut up and cook poultry. His wife and daughter, meanwhile, baked dozens of pies.
The dinner is all-you-can-eat and is served family style, though to-go containers also are available.
Last year’s dinner was the church’s most well-attended yet, which prompted them to make one change to help meet the demand.
“We can’t cook noodles fast enough to keep up,” Simmons said. “So we hooked up another stove.”
St. Paul’s 70th annual chicken and noodle dinner
What: A fundraising dinner featuring chicken and noodles and sides served family style; carryout also available
When: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday
Where: St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, 1356 N. Broadway
How much: $10; free for ages 6 and under
Tickets: Available at the door or by calling 316-267-3263