Election Day meals are a time-honored tradition. Here’s how they’re adapting to the pandemic

Erin Donnelly
·4-min read
Parkview United Methodist Church in Miamisburg, Ohio has hosted an Election Day meal every year since 1901 — but this year will have a drive-through instead of the traditional sit-down dinner shown here. (Photo: Courtesy of Parkview United Methodist Church)
Parkview United Methodist Church in Miamisburg, Ohio has hosted an Election Day meal every year since 1901 — but this year will have a drive-through instead of the traditional sit-down dinner shown here. (Photo: Courtesy of Parkview United Methodist Church)

Since 1901 — the year fellow Ohioan President William McKinley was assassinated — the Miamisburg, Ohio church now known as Parkview United Methodist Church has hosted an annual Election Day meal in November. According to 97-year-old church member Berman Layer, it’s a 119-year-old tradition that no pandemic will interrupt.

“We had a great flood in 1913, and ... we had the Spanish Flu, and it continued through that,” he tells Yahoo Life, “and it continued through the Great Depression, and World War I and World War II. So this year we’re continuing on, even though we couldn’t have it inside because of the coronavirus.”

Indeed, what originally began as members of what was then called the United Brethren bringing baskets of home-cooked meals to the old City Hall building to feed voters and poll workers counting paper ballots late into the night (“of course, they didn’t have any hanging chads back then,” quips Layer) will this year be served up in a drive-through format to reduce contact during the pandemic. While past events typically see between 500 to 600 members of the community sitting shoulder-to-shoulder as they feasted, this year’s meal has been limited to 235 ticket holders, with proceeds going toward feeding local children in need through the organization Blessings in a Bag. Diners will be served by local Boy Scouts “who will take food out to the cars so they don’t have to come in at all,” Layer says.

Boy Scouts will hand-deliver this year's meals at (Photo: Church)
Boy Scouts will hand-deliver this year's meals at Parkview. (Photo: Parkview United Methodist Church)

He adds that the meals have been turkey dinners with all the fixin’s as long as he’s been attending — he joined the church in 1951 — though menus at similar Election Day events tend to vary greatly according to regional tastes and tradition. History books show the earliest Election Day meals being celebrations fêted with “Election Cakes” teeming with fruit and alcohol. These days, the events are typically hosted by churches and social clubs, often concentrated in swing states like Pennsylvania and Ohio, as part fundraiser, part voter pick-me-up and part community get-together, with popular dishes including spaghetti, sausage, pancakes and, in the case of one Virginia volunteer fire department, country ham sandwiches. The challenge this year is to get that crowd-pleasing fare to the masses without breaching COVID-19 guidelines or risking transmission.

At Friedens Lutheran Church’s Election Day Meal in Friedens, Penn., it’ll be hot dogs, stuffed pork or chicken breast and the local specialty of “gobs,” a creamy confection likened to a whoopie pie. Pastor John tells Yahoo Life that the Nov. 3 event — typically held in the church’s social hall, which doubles as a voting precinct — is the second one this year to be adjusted due to the pandemic. In June, an election meal coinciding with the primaries was served up to-go instead of the typical sit-down dinner; Tuesday’s food will also be dished up for voters to take home on their way out after casting their ballots.

Famed for its long-running spaghetti suppers that draw local politicians, Our Lady of Pompei church in Syracuse, N.Y. is switching to a drive-through for the first time since 1949. The change hasn’t hurt demand, however, as the church’s 1,000 meals have sold out.

Meanwhile, the United Way of Indiana County’s Sausage and Pancake Day in Indiana, Penn. will this year be available via delivery, curbside pick-up or, thanks to a change in venue, as a socially distant dine-in meal for a limited number of participants. Over in Butler County, the local rotary clubs will offer limited dine-in seating for about 100 people, with masks required; otherwise, the Election Day pancakes are available for take-out.

Layer calls his church’s Election Day meal the “social event of the year,” and while that community camaraderie may be harder to drum up as parishioners remain in their cars versus hobnobbing amid crowded tables, it’s a testament to tradition that the food is still going out at all. On the other hand, what better way to get through a stressful election cycle than with a stack of pancakes or heaving plate of noodles — drive-through or not?

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