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By BOB WHITE
ELIZABETHTOWN — Some residents living near American Legion Park in Elizabethtown worried fire had sparked among the large trees when smoke was seen billowing from the hilltop park at 6:30 in the morning.
One man called firefighters, but his worries were quelled after learning the smoky clouds were nothing more than the gallons of sweet Cattleman’s barbecue sauce from hundreds of chicken halves simmering on four massive grills.
While the civic group unintentionally sparked concerns of a midtown blaze on an August morning, the Elizabethtown Lions Club commits no fouls when it comes to cooking up charitable events.
Many of the group’s 96 members were up before dawn Saturday gearing up for this year’s annual chicken barbecue — the club’s 66th fowl fundraiser and one of the most popular community eats of the year.
Club President Bill Shinkle said getting up with the roosters is simply a necessity when charged with grilling more than a thousand birds over open flame.
“You just can’t come out here and sear ’em cook, dip ’em and cook ’em all at once,” he said. “You got to start cooking early, so they’ll be ready when everyone gets here ready to eat.”
By 11 a.m., people began pouring into Elizabethtown High School for a sit-down lunch, while more pulled behind the school to grab dinners to go at the club’s drive-through tent. The dinner lasts most of the afternoon, giving folks an opportunity to grab a bird for lunch or supper.
At $6 a pop, the 2,000 dinners sold each year net thousands for charities supported by the club.
Last year, the club supported 42 different charitable organizations, efforts and events in the Elizabethtown area — from scout troops to park initiatives.
“Every penny we get off this cookout goes right back into the community in some way,” Shinkle said.
Along with charitable groups, events and efforts Lions support, eye exams for youth — one thing Lions Clubs worldwide are rooted in — also are made possible by events such as the chicken dinner.
Shinkle said nearly 3,000 children throughout the area were treated to eye exams last year, courtesy of local Lions Clubs. Many toddlers showing signs of “lazy eye” also benefited from the volunteer work of the Lions.
“Some of that eye equipment is so expensive, several clubs will go in together to pay for it,” Shinkle said. “Some of the ones we help are little bitty kids.”
The Elizabethtown Lions Club hosts six other major fundraisers throughout the year – most of which are tied to food, such as spaghetti dinners and pancake breakfasts.
The chicken barbecue is by far the club’s most popular and oldest fundraiser.
Bob White can be reached at (270) 505-1750.