Heavenly hot dogs

Not too many things bring the community together quite like God and hot dogs.

In its ninth year, Forest Hill United Methodist church has served about a quarter-million hot dogs to the hundreds of repeat customers in and beyond the downtown Concord area through its hot dog sale ministry.

Firefighters attend its weekly fundraiser by fire truckload. Politicians know it's a good place to be seen and take the pulse of the people. People often celebrate birthdays there. To date, the church has raised more than $270,000. It runs 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Fridays at 265 Union St. N., Concord.

McGill Baptist Church members knew a winning formula when they saw it and asked Forest Hill members for advice on how to start their own hot dog fundraiser. McGill's fundraiser has been running two years strong, serving about 150 hot dogs each Friday to nearly 100 guests. Its effort runs 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Fridays at 5300 Poplar Tent Road, Concord.

At Forest Hill, a crew of about 40 volunteers work throughout the week preparing desserts, ordering supplies, cooking hot dogs and chili, delivering to-go orders, cleaning up and the like. They sell 600-plus hotdogs each Friday and go through nearly 10 gallons of "chili beans," a meat-less soup-like dish. They serve about 400-500 people each week.

Both churches use proceeds for building funds to pay off property loans. Both fundraisers sell most items for $1 or $1.25 - desserts, chili, slaw, drinks, chips - and nearly everything is homemade.

McGill members say they make the best dog in town but admit Forest Hill has something they don't.

"Location, location, location," said Ray Hathcock, 75, a member volunteer at McGill Baptist.

Kelly Slusarick, a five-year Concord resident, regularly takes her daughters, Zoe, 13, and Sarah, 17, to Forest Hill's weekly fundraiser. They call it "hot dog Friday" and have attended the last three years.

Concord's Don Rogers, 63, was baptized at Forest Hill and has been a lifelong member. He also volunteers in the kitchen for the weekly fundraiser. He said without the community and the volunteers, the church effort wouldn't be such a success.

"It's an event," he said. "But it's not all about the hot dogs. It's about having fun and sharing."

Jackie Lafferty, 69, is a lifelong member of Forest Hill and a Concord resident. She said the church took over the tradition when Kerr Memorial Baptist stopped serving hot dogs on Oct. 25, 2002. Lafferty and her brother, Robert Burrage, along with about 20 church members garnered church support and launched their effort on Nov. 1.

"We all love it and we're all equally dedicated to it," she said. "And we have the faithful support of the community."

Some of McGill's patrons are equally as dedicated to the dog. On Jan. 15 a regular visitor came to eat after getting 13 stitches earlier that morning.

"He had to have a hot dog," said church member and volunteer Shirley Hathcock."

Jean and Willis Weathers have been married 54 years. They've attended McGill's fundraiser nearly every Friday since it began two years ago. They also were a part of the church's initial test group, which sampled an array of food possibilities before voting on the best.

With the lure of food, they said these fundraisers also boost church membership.