The Homestead community turned out to support the marching band Saturday and to enjoy a tradition that defied the COVID-19 pandemic.

Homestead Spartan Alliance Band Boosters enlisted 150 volunteers to cook and sell the chicken and dumplings meals that have raised money for the band for at least two decades.

This year, though, the venue was not the Johnny Appleseed Festival, which had to bow to public safety. The site was the parking lot at the Homestead Freshman Academy fronting Aboite Center Road.

Cars began pulling into the parking lot before the advertised 11 a.m. starting time. By 12:30, a rope went up at the entrance and a sign explained that the meal had sold out.

Band parent Terri Amstutz chaired the committed that organized the fundraiser. "Because of COVID, Johnny Appleseed had to be canceled but we still needed to make money for the band, so we opted to do a drive-thru at this time," Amstutz said.

As usual, boosters filled 26 giant cast iron kettles, heated by wood fires. "We're talking about probably hundreds and hundreds of gallons," Amstutz said. "We have one size only for the drive-thru. We sell it in quarts for $20 a quart and it's been a wild success for us."

Upon entering the lot, drivers reserved up to five quarts of chicken and dumplings. Masked volunteers kept a tally, to ensure that no one waited in line just to leave empty-handed. Though it had been difficult to predict the turnout and plan accordingly, Amstutz said the committee knew by 9 a.m. Saturday that it would be a sell-out.

Amstutz, whose son Robert is a senior trumpet player, said band families are used to rising early on Saturdays in October. "We were supposed to be at Lafayette Jefferson High School today for an ISSMA regional marching band contest and when our phones all went off saying we were supposed to be there today, it kind of sinks your heart," she said. "We have 70 seniors in the band and this year we missed out on the marching band season. And then the ding went off on our phone telling us we're doing a drive-thru today. This is the one thing that's kind of kept us going this season. Even though the marching band season is over, we could get together and do this. Over a hundred and fifty volunteers are involved."

She said four alumni got involved in the sale. Parents whose children graduated years ago also showed up. "You never leave this committee," Amstutz said. "It's been absolutely touching how helpful everyone has been."

Some of the young musicians who might otherwise have been competing before Indiana State School Music Association judges instead were filling quart containers in keeping with another Spartan tradition.

"I feel some of the parents are getting their resilience from the kids," Amstutz said.

Amstutz also thanked Southwest Allen County Schools Superintendent Phil Downs and Homestead High School Principal Park Ginder for making the parking lot and grounds available. The spacious cooking area was essential, she said. "We didn't want to change the way we did this. It has to be open kettles," she said.

By early afternoon the fires were out, the cast iron pots were cooling, the wide-brim Johnny Appleseed hats were back in the boxes, and the 2021 marching band season was one day nearer.

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