Hamming it up
Don Turnmire set up large canopies and began setting up the 12 cooking pots outside the Sawmills Volunteer fire and Rescue building. He strapped on his apron, filled the pots with vegetable oil and began frying up the ham. The sun had not yet risen Saturday morning, but the former volunteer firefighter knew that in just a few short hours folks would be lining up, and he wanted to be ready.
The occasion was the 24th Annual Ham Day fund raiser to benefit the department. From 6 to 10:30 a.m., the volunteers served up ham, eggs, grits biscuits and baked apples. From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., it was more ham, but this time with green beans, more baked apples and dinner rolls.
Sure enough, by 9:30 a.m., the tables inside the building, which was recently expanded, were full. The fire trucks had been moved outside to make room for the masses. By 10 a.m. a long line had snaked through the firefighter's lounge and through the other side of the large structure.
Last year's event brought more than 2,000 people from all across the region and raised more than $13,000. Money raised is used to buy equipment that tax money might not be able to purchase, said Fire Chief Brian Church.
Saturday's event was destined to be a hit, thanks to the unseasonably warm temperature and bright sunshine.
"We couldn't ask for better support," Turnmire said as he dropped chunks of ham into the 350-degree oil.
Just inside the building a makeshift kitchen was set up, and long rows of tables stretched out where trucks are usually parked. Assistant Fire Chief Dave Price hovered over one of three flat-top griddles, expertly turning the egg mixture with a long spatula. Nearby, Town Administrator Seth Eckard cracked eggs into a large mixing bowl. The mood was light and lively, and they were loving every minute of it.
"It's more than just a fund raiser, it's a time of fellowship," Price said. "If you look around, our families are here somewhere. My wife and two children, and my parents, are here."
Sitting near the wall, wearing an orange ball cap, was Mark Hudson of Dudley Shoals. The UPS driver and self-professed "foodie" knows the event is important for the volunteer firefighters, of which his father was one.
"We've been coming out about 10 years, maybe more," Hudson said. "We come out to support the local community, to try to help them raise money for what they to do. I know they use the money to improve their equipment, and ultimately their community.
"Besides, I love to eat."