Countdown to annual Chicken Barbecue

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTOS
Hap Bowditch and Keith Clark grill for the masses at a previous barbecue.

Perhaps the number one summer event for Shelter Islanders is the Fire Department’s annual Chicken Barbecue, this year happening on Saturday, Aug. 17, at Fireman’s Field from 4 to 8 p.m.

Since May, the Reporter has fielded calls from residents about the date, many explaining they plan their other summer activities around this single event.

It’s the 56th annual Chicken Barbecue that, while billed as a fundraiser for the Fire Department, is just as much a thank you to the community for its ongoing support, according to First Assistant Chief Anthony Reiter.

“Not much has changed” through the years, Chief Reiter said. But that’s just fine with town residents, who value the day as a chance to catch up with friends and neighbors and share a delicious meal.

It’s $30 for adults and $15 for children to enjoy the usual menu of chicken, corn, potato salad, watermelon and cold drinks.

Food, friends and fun equal happy Islanders.

It takes 2,000 chicken halves, 70 bushels of corn and 450 pounds of potatoes to feed the hungry Island masses. And for those unable to stay to eat, meals can be prepared to go. The aim is to have enough food for 2,000 people to accommodate some who haven’t pre-purchased tickets.

But buy tickets ahead at many local businesses, department officials said, because once that 2,000 mark is hit, those barbecuing won’t be able to accommodate walk-ins.

It takes everyone in the department and auxiliary, as well as many volunteers, to carry it off each summer, Chief Reiter said.

Beginning next week, department members will not only be responding to the usual calls for assistance, but for setup duty, which includes raising a large tent on the site to protect attendees from inclement weather or a hot sun beating down; setup of tables and chairs, and, of course, the huge grills necessary to prepare the chicken.

Everyone knows watermelons are best sliced with a machete.

Auxiliary members and other volunteers will be busy working at what has become a favorite staple of the event — peeling potatoes to make a special potato salad that has achieved its own fame through the years.

The money raised from the barbecue helps pay for equipment beyond what is annually budgeted by the Board of Fire Commissioners. In past years, the average take has been about $25,000. But it’s less about the money these days than about what has become, Chief Reiter reiterated, an important community event to bring neighbors and friends together.

A crowd ate, drank and was merry with friends and family at Fireman’s Field.

A few years ago, there was talk about scrapping the event because of the amount of work involved compared with the money raised. Instead, the department has dispensed with its Country Fair that used to run the week after the Chicken Barbecue. That meant after a week of setup for the Chicken Barbecue and then days of breaking down the site, work had to start on setting up for the Country Fair. It became too much work sandwiched into a short period of time.

Want to help? You don’t have to work the whole day and evening, but early birds should show up at Fireman’s Field at 9 a.m. on Aug. 17 to help shuck corn and set up tables and chairs. Later, volunteers will be assigned to take tickets and serve food. The final shift after all the guests have departed can assist with cleanup.

Tickets are available at many Island businesses.

Just one of the many happy residents who attended the Shelter Island Fire Department’s Chicken Barbecue last year.

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