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Come to the Table fundraiser teaches NorthWood students how to serve a crowd and a community

When about 300 people show up for a meal, you’d better have good help.

You’d better have people to plate the courses, carry the food, clear the plates and smile as they do it.

At the Come to the Table fundraiser for the Family Christian Development Center on Aug. 8, more than 100 volunteers pitched in. Some of them worked on the silent auction or registration. But a small army, a powerful group, showed up and couldn’t have been more impressive.

Many of the volunteers were NorthWood High School students who gave up their last night of summer vacation to help the local agency.

Fifty or so members of the football team, National Honor Society, Student Council and Key Club lent hands and made a difference.

It took a lot of people working together to raise money for FCDC, which provides food, medical and other assistance to residents in the southern part of Elkhart County. On this night, the goal was to raise $120,000, about half the agency’s annual budget.

Mark Mikel, executive director of the agency, asked me to help with the food. Former NorthWood High School Principal Lou Bonacorsi and others were part of the planning committee.

Sponsors and donors contributed money and items for the silent and live auctions. A bunch of restaurants, including Antonio’s, Bacon Hill Kitchen & Pub, Rachel’s Bread, Boathouse and One Ten Craft Meatery, contributed courses of food for the farm-to-table meal.

With appetizers, salad, soup and three entrees coming for 300 guests, in addition to dessert, there was plenty to plate, plenty to serve.

Nappanee has a few restaurants, but fewer than most cities its size and fewer than other places in Elkhart County. A few of the teenagers volunteering had restaurant experience, but most simply had willingness and time.

Kathy Romano of Boathouse showed football players how to hoist a large tray of plates over their shoulders (which were adorned in their football jerseys, but not the pads). 

Chefs like Jason Brown from One Ten and Zach Lucchese from Bacon Hill showed them how to plate. Loren Shaum, who made a rock shrimp ceviche at Noa Noa and served it at the event, worked with the teens to fill plates of his dish and others.

Among the tables at The Pond, a reception and event center southwest of Nappanee, students worked to ensure everyone got food.

We weren’t perfect. One or two tables never got their salad. We were volunteers. But we had fun and learned together.

When I told one young man not to eat his pizza next to where we were serving, he looked me in the eye and said he was sorry and then said, “Thanks for telling me. I wouldn’t have known.”

When tubs needed to be filled with water and ice, the young people clamored to grab bags or bottles.

They didn’t hide. They checked their phones less than I did. They hung out with each other until there was something to do and then gladly helped.

I hear from restaurant owners these days about how hard it is to find good help. I hear that people don’t want to work hard anymore.

I put that alongside what I saw these young people doing on a summer night and wish that those employers could connect with these students.

These students may not need jobs. They may be focused on school and football and extracurriculars. They may have done one night of serving food and said never again.

However, it was remarkable to work alongside them, to see them working hard and trying to learn how to be food service professionals. Romano said there were at least five of the students she would have hired on the spot.

Mikel brought the students out in front of the seated crowd and thanked them. He urged them to keep volunteering like they had on this evening. As the entire crowd applauded, loudly, a few people appropriately stood up and clapped.

It was fun to work alongside these chefs. It was, once again, amazing to see how generous people in this community are at fundraisers like this. The live auction included antics and high bids for meals and cabins and even a chicken.

The event exceeded its goal and raised $152,000. That’s just amazing and will have a real impact on Nappanee.

But aside from the money we raised, what I’ll take away from the evening is how impressive these young people were.

I’m hungry. Let’s eat.

Marshall V. King is food columnist for Flavor 574 and community editor for The Elkhart Truth. You can reach him at 574-296-5805,, and on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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