Rain, PDBC Meal Sure Signs the Fair Has Arrived
By LORETTA FULTON
As sure as the rains come during the West Texas Fair & Rodeo, so do volunteers from Pioneer Drive Baptist Church.
It would be hard to say which is a more welcomed sight. Rain is always welcomed in Abilene,, but so are the folks from Pioneer Drive, who year after year provide a home-style barbecue meal and all the trimmings for the workers who keep the fair up and running.
Until COVID hit in 2020, the meal was served in the Ranch House on the Taylor County Expo Center grounds. Church members decorated the building, prepared and served the meal, and were on hand for prayer or conversation, giving the event a family feel.
“Hopefully, next year we’ll be able to get back to that,” said Donna Lanier, whose Sunday School class in normal years bakes pies to serve with the meal.
But nothing has been normal since COVID took over. In 2020 and again in 2021, the meals were packed into styrofoam boxes and served to workers lined up outside. However it’s served, the meal is always a treat for the workers. They frequently tell church members how welcomed they feel when they arrive in Abilene and are greeted with the free meal.
They have many people from Pioneer Drive to thank, including Jay and Wilma Barbian, the primary cooks involved. Jay fires up his smoker to cook brisket and sausage, and Wilma provides most of the trimmings.
Most years, members of the Lydia Ladies Sunday School class bake the pies, which are cut into individual slices and served with the seated meal. But last year and this year, Barbian baked cobblers, which are easier to fit into the take-out containers.
“If we keep doing it enough years,” she said, “we’ll probably get it down to a science.”
The annual meal not only is a gift to the fair workers, it also is a way for church members to get involved in outreach projects. For some, like Lanier and the Barbians, that has been happening for years. For Chris Clifton, it was a first-time experience.
Clifton grew up in Abilene and was in the military after graduating from high school. He now is a single parent of three children, two in high school and one in elementary school, and he works in information technology at Hendrick Medical Center.
Still, he finds time to be of service in the community because he believes Christians should demonstrate love and kindness, not just talk about it. Clifton served with the Army in Iraq and Afghanistan and saw a great deal of suffering.
“I’ve seen how fortunate we are here,” he said, “but we still have our own people here who need help.”
Fewer people have shown up for the to-go meal than the seated meal. Wilma Barbian said that is partly because the carnival staff was down by 50 percent this year. About 100 fewer meals were served than normal, she said.
Whether COVID is still a factor in 2022 is an unknown. But rain and volunteers from Pioneer Drive Baptist Church are almost certain when the fair comes to down again next September. Everyone prefers the seated meal, Barbian said, but church members will be prepared no matter what.
“You take what you have,” she said, “and make do with it.”
Loretta Fulton is creator and editor of Spirit of Abilene