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Palmerton native returns for community meal

His professional drag racing gig has him living in Pittsburgh, but Michael Balch returns home to Palmerton each Thanksgiving to give back to a community that means so much to him.

Balch is preparing for the sixth annual community dinner, a tradition he started, on Wednesday night at Living Hope Lighthouse Church, 705 N. Third St. in Palmerton.

“The year I started it, I just felt like there wasn’t much community togetherness in the town,” Balch said. “So I put a post on Facebook saying I’d like to have a community Thanksgiving dinner, not just tailored to people that are in need, but tailored to anyone that doesn’t have a place to go. So it grew from there and the community loved it.”

The free meal is available at the church from 5-7 p.m. on Wednesday, with curbside service available between 6-7 p.m. Anyone wanting curbside service can call 610-826-2201 during that hour to order.

Community is the key word, Balch said, when it comes to the meal. Chris Anthony from Country Harvest donates 36 turkeys, and Balch buys over 100 pounds of ham for the event as well. Chip Solt from Joey B’s donates 100 pounds of potatoes, which volunteers then use to make mashed potatoes. Fred and RoseAnn Lesher of Country Inn and Suites donate money to go toward the dinner, as do the owners of the Beer Zone in Palmerton.

“I was just a guy with an idea,” Balch said. “They make it all come together. Members of Honest Trav’s Virtual Dive Bar also come and volunteer their time to help us prep the meals. This is all about the community being there to support anybody that either doesn’t have money or doesn’t have a family to eat with.”

Six years after its inception, the event remains close to Balch’s heart. A Palmerton native, Balch’s family moved to San Diego when he was 2 without much money to live on.

“We were poor, going from homeless shelter to homeless shelter for food,” he said. “I know what it’s like to be hungry and go to churches and get powdered milk and government cheese blocks. That’s why when I had the ability to make this happen, I jumped at the chance.”

According to Balch, some of the other items available at the dinner will include green bean casserole, pumpkin pie and pumpkin roll.

“I would expect that we’ll do between 300-400 meals,” he said. “It’s grown so much over the years.”