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Indiana's Believe It or Not: Hundreds show up for liver and onions!

LINED UP FOR LIVER: Believe it or not, hundreds of people showed up and waited in line at the Petroleum Methodist Church for liver and onions.
Hoosier Fare: A community dinner that started with the goal of emptying an ag teacher’s freezer has become an annual fundraiser.

You’ve heard of fish fries, tenderloin suppers, even turkey dinners as fundraisers for good causes. But have you heard about the small-town church that raises funds by serving up liver and onions?

Steve Stauffer told Joe Park and me about this unique meal at a retirement event for Dan Webb, former Tri High vocational-agriculture teacher. Stauffer is a longtime ag teacher himself, teaching at Southern Wells High School. 

Park, director of the Indiana FFA Leadership Center, and I snickered when Stauffer told us hundreds show up to eat liver and onions at his church on a Saturday afternoon in February. He insisted they cooked a huge amount of liver and onions, and it all disappeared. We snickered so much that Stauffer challenged us to come see for ourselves.

Skeptical and just a bit curious, we took him up on it. On Feb. 11 we and our wives — my wife, Carla, and Joe’s wife, Bettye Lou — piled into Joe’s van for the two-hour ride to Petroleum. The town is so small, it doesn’t have a working gas station. We followed MapQuest directions onto Second Street. As the Petroleum Methodist Church came into view, so did a parking lot jammed full of dozens upon dozens of cars and trucks. We looked at each other. Our jaws dropped.

Inside it was standing room only. People were lined up to eat liver and onions. You could also get mashed potatoes — with liver gravy, if you were really brave — chicken and noodles, slaw, green beans and gorgeous homemade desserts.

I ate my share of liver and onions. My wife politely declined, to the server’s dismay. Joe’s wife tried a bite, and Joe managed to eat his portion.

Stauffer broke out in a big smile when he saw us. He gave us the grand tour of the kitchen, and even slipped us some of his gooseberry pie: That was good eating!

Liver by accident!
This was the seventh annual liver and onions supper. Stauffer estimated they cooked nearly 150 pounds each of liver, onions and potatoes. It’s an all-volunteer project.

“It all started because I had more than 40 pound s of beef liver in my freezer after selling beef to local people who didn’t want liver,” Stauffer explained. “I told my church group we should have a supper, serve the liver and see what happened. It didn’t even start out as a fundraiser.

“We set a date, fixed slaw and a couple other things to go with it, and put out the word. None of us knew if anybody would show up. I simply told the Lord it was in his hands, and we set about fixing liver.”

At the end of the night, there was no liver left — and a tradition was born, Stauffer said. “And now we can say people come from south of Indianapolis for liver and onions,” he added, winking at us.

If you have a unique community function involving food you want to share, tell me about it. And don’t forget that if you have a favorite restaurant that I likely wouldn’t enter without you, let me know. The list is growing! I will take you and a friend to lunch or dinner if you convince me the food is great. Email tom.bechman@penton.com or write to: P.O. Box 247, Franklin, IN 46131. 

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