By John Chambless
If you go by the numbers, the annual Penn Township Picnic on Sept. 28 is big.
Curtis Mason, the chairman of the Penn Township Board of Supervisors, has been involved in putting the picnic together for each of its nine years, and he can tell you how much food is given away.
"There's one key word -- free," Mason said last week. "We go through 1,150 pounds of chicken, 1,200 hot dogs, 1,200 burgers. I cook about 80 pounds of chipped ham. Then there's salads and all that stuff, and we go through close to 4,000 drinks. We run the food from noon until 4, or until we run out. And we run out every year," he said.
The first year of the picnic, he estimated 1,200 people turned out. Last year, nearly 4,000 people came. If the weather's good this weekend, the crowd should eclipse last year's figures.
The picnic -- officially named the Penn Township/Jennersville Regional Hospital Community Picnic and Health and Wellness Fair -- was started as a joint project by the Penn supervisors and the hospital, "to give the community a family day where everyone can come and enjoy," Mason said. It is held at Penn Township Park (250 Lewis Rd., West Grove), next to the hospital and across the street from the Southern Chester County YMCA. It opens at 11 a.m. and continues until 4 p.m.
The event is always funded entirely by sponsors. "The one rule is, we don't allow anybody to sell anything -- no exceptions," Mason said. "You can show your wares, but you can't sell them."
For the hospital, the day is a tremendous outreach to the community. This year's event will offer tours of the new hospital facilities and equipment demonstrations, along with free health screenings and health information for visitors.
Since a large part of the attraction is the free barbeque, this year's event will have a new dining tent where people can sit down and enjoy their meals. And people who can't get to the picnic site won't miss out, Mason said.
"We get some some volunteers from the YMCA, from the vo-tech school and from Lincoln University, and they deliver food to people who can't get out," he said. "That includes the people who have exhibits there and have to stay at their booths. And I have a group that delivers meals to the Luther House buildings for the elderly people over there. They look forward to it every year."
Since there's so much food on the table and the event depends completely on the weather, the rain date is always the following day, because the food has to be served as soon as possible, Mason said.
In addition to all the meals, the live entertainment is top notch, Mason said.
"The Jesse Garron Elvis Tribute is the best Elvis show show I've ever seen," he said. "and the Coast 2 Coast Motown Tribute is probably the best band I've ever heard. When people hear this band, they'll be stunned."
Other attractions this Saturday are the Philadelphia Union Mobile Tour, which brings in a mobile soccer field, Jungle John's Balloon and Reptile Show, the Philadelphia Eagles cheerleaders, the American Helicopter Museum's "Stubby," and more.
Area non-profits and services including the Pennsylvania State Police, the Chester County Sheriff's Department, Medic 94, and West Grove Fire and Ambulance will be on hand with police and emergency equipment displays, as well as information for the public.
Mason said the work behind planning each year's picnic "begins as soon as the last picnic is over. That's when I start soliciting sponsors. Last year I lost one sponsor, but I gained two others. Most everyone continues to support the picnic, year after year, because it's such a good event.
"It's such a great thing for the family -- kids, adults, everybody," Mason said. "It's a free day for everybody, the more the merrier."