Rural Manitoba communities get creative with socially distanced fall suppers

While a traditional fall supper can't happen during the pandemic, Manitoba communities are getting creative.
While a traditional fall supper can't happen during the pandemic, Manitoba communities are getting creative. Tetra Images / Getty Images

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Manitobans have become used to socially distanced versions of their favourite events, from curbside shopping pickup to drive-in music festivals.

As fall approaches, however, communities are coming up with novel ways to keep a strong rural tradition — the annual fall supper — alive in the time of the coronavirus.

Merle Campbell is part of a three-person committee that puts on the annual meal at the Killarney United Church, and she told 680 CJOB the shift from an indoor community meal to a takeout/pickup event required a bit of rethinking, but has received positive feedback from the community so far.

Campbell said the committee realized it was doable after converting their annual fish fry to a fish sale earlier in the pandemic.

“This year we sold fish and didn’t have the fish fry, and it worked very well, so we thought, maybe we can do the fall supper the same way,” Campbell said. “We’ve had several meetings … we’ll just have to adjust the number of people we have in the kitchen at one time.

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“We’re very fortunate that we have a very large auditorium attached to the kitchen, so we can work it out that there’s going to be less people.”

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Campbell said the church has set the limit at 100 meals, ordered by Oct. 1 for the Oct. 11 event.

“You just come in, pay for your meals, and we have a bag ready for you, and away you go.”

Despite the social distancing required, the meal will be familiar to those who have attended fall suppers in the past: turkey, dressing, potatoes, gravy, vegetables, coleslaw, a dinner roll, and a brownie for dessert — all for $15.

Campbell said she has 16 orders already, and it’s still August.

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Similar preparations are being made at the community hall in Zhoda, Man., about 20 km southeast of Steinbach.

Zhoda’s fall supper co-ordinator, Denise Tysoski, told 680 CJOB it became clear months ago that a traditional fall supper was unlikely to happen, due to the pandemic.

“When they put in all the regulations, the emergency order with the restrictions on (the number of) people inside, we knew there was no way we could possibly do it,” she said.

“Everything was up in the air. We didn’t even know if we’d be allowed to have more than 10 people together.”

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Tysoski said similar plans in communities like Gardenton and Tolstoi led to the creation of a takeout meal for Zhoda residents.

“Normally, it’s buffet-style,” she said, “but we can’t do that, so we’re just doing the takeout.

“The way the hall’s set up, we can have people pretty much drive up, order as many boxes as they want, and then leave.”

Although Zhoda’s fall supper — a meal of perogies, cabbage rolls, chicken, meatballs, corn and ice cream — isn’t until Oct. 4, Tysoski said the community is thinking ahead and will be starting work as early as, potentially, next week.

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“Today, I’m ordering a lot of the raw materials to pick up so we can start preparing.

“Originally, we were thinking we’d have between 200 and 250 [meals], but now I’m thinking we may go 300.

“On average, when we have our regular fall supper, we could have maybe 380-450 coming into the hall, and we’ve been watching a lot of people sharing our poster online.”

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