For the two weeks surrounding the Appalachian Fair, a group of volunteers from the Holston Baptist Association work from sunup to sundown, providing meals and support for the people working at the fair, and they love every minute of it.
Their ministry circles their campers, puts up tents and tables and chairs in the middle and provide free meals all day and night long. This is the way it’s been for the last 16 years, said Holston Baptist Association Church and Community Director Ginger Dalton.
“We got the idea from a strawberry festival in Florida,” Dalton says. “We brought people up to do the same thing.”
Dalton and her team are serving around 200 people per day, mostly workers on their breaks from working rides, booths, officers from the sheriff’s office who are working the gates or even prisoners who work as groundskeepers.
They say they don’t discriminate and try their best to serve everyone.
The meals they serve include pancakes or sausage and gravy for breakfast, peanut butter and jelly, chips and a Little Debbie snack for lunch and spaghetti and garlic bread for dinner. For drinks, they serve water, coffee and Kool-Aid.
A lot of their menu is based on donations they’ve been able to procure. They meet annually, usually the Friday before the fair starts, and put together their menu for fair week.
Kay Scalf, one of the volunteers doing this for her seventh year, says they try to have food out during all hours of the day, because they never know when someone might come up and need something.
The running joke is that Scalf comes out of her camper early each morning with a spatula in her hand, ready to whip up the first meal of the day.
But food isn’t the only service they provide patrons of their site. They say they’re always available to pray with people or help them out however they can, and often hear knocks on the door in the middle of the night.
Teresa Hayes, one of the volunteers, explained the wide range of ways they give support. She says they’ve brought workers to doctors, to the dentist, they’ve taken up clothes collections to get the right size of shoes and shirt if needed, and they’ve even raised money for workers to go home early if they experienced some kind of emergency. Hayes says she was proud to have an out-of-town patron tell her that they make it “as close to home as you’ll get away from home.”
Gray resident Freddie Callahan said it’s not only convenient, he’s keen on what they serve, too.
“They’ve had good food all week long,” Callahan said. “And it keeps getting better.”
You might think getting woken up in the middle of the night to serve food, and volunteer long hours to hundreds of people each day would be less than desirable, but you’d be wrong.
Hayes treats it like vacation and looks forward to it every year.
“It’s a blessing,” Hayes said. “They have such heart. And people often ask why we do this, and we just defend the people we’re helping.”
She says they don’t have to actively recruit people, and have seen their numbers balloon in the last few years. They’ve held the same location for several years, which makes them a fixture for workers.
The volunteers all say that they develop friendly relationships with the workers, staying in touch until they get to see them the following summer.