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Mingle with Hand-in-Hand volunteers as they serve local and out-of-town guests at this home cooked dinner to support firefighting efforts in the Bird-in-Hand community.
(Pricing subject to change before the event)
This year’s famed Chicken Pot Pie Fundraiser—produced by the Hand-in-Hand Fire Company and nearly 100 volunteers—marks the 31st year of a tasty and time-honored Lancaster County tradition.
The year was 1993. Whitney Houston’s rendition of I Will Always Love You was the top song of the year, and moviegoers hit the theaters to see Groundhog Day with Bill Murray. In Bird-in-Hand, a small town in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, two local firefighters—Tim Hoerner and Reuben Stoltzfus—were figuring out the best way to hold a chicken pot pie fundraiser.
They did their research, hitting nearby restaurants to sample local versions of the classic Pennsylvania Dutch dish. Not to be confused with traditional chicken pie, with chicken, gravy and ingredients like potatoes, carrots and peas are tucked into a classic pie crust—chicken pot pie is a uniquely Pennsylvania Dutch dish and a Lancaster County specialty. More on that in a moment.
In order to optimize the proceeds from the fundraiser, Hoerner and Stoltzfus studied how other community groups produced such events, pondering the ins and outs of every detail. They assembled a team of volunteers and reached out to local newspapers to help spread the word. A tasty Shoo-fly pie, another Pennsylvania Dutch treat, was strategically mailed to Willard Scott at the Today show, who generously boosted the event on-air to millions.
The inaugural Hand-in-Hand Fire Company chicken pot pie fundraiser was a roaring success, with locals and visitors queued up at the fire station to sample the savory local dish with all the fixings. “One of our fire policemen said, ‘There’s nobody home in New York today,’” recounts Hoerner with a laugh, “because there were all these cars with New York license plates.”
More than three decades later this fundraiser remains a fun, annual fixture—netting a sizable return for the non-profit, volunteer fire station and attracting attendees from up and down the Mid-Atlantic. “There are people who will make it a destination, and a place to meet up every year,” points out Hoerner.
This year’s fundraiser happens on February 24. Attendees can dine in starting at 10:30 am— buffet style, either in the dining room or in the engine bays—or pick up their meal at the drive-in window, which opens at 9:30 am. There’s even a delivery option, with volunteer drivers shuttling fresh orders to locations within approximately 4 miles of the station.
And the menu. The chicken pot pie at Hand-in-Hand is hearty and rich, with potatoes, homemade dough and chicken meat steeped in a savory broth. Years of creating the specialty has elevated their version to a tasty art, starting with the main ingredient. “We raise our own chickens,” says Jake King, who currently chairs the event. A testament to the longevity of service among its members, King was a Hand-in-Hand Fire Company firefighter at the time of the first chicken pot pie fundraiser; and continues today as a fundraising member—and the pot pie fundraiser’s head cook.
“It’s extremely flavorful meat,” Hoerner says of the chicken used for the pot pie. The chickens are pasture raised and fed non-GMO grain, and the poultry is slow-cooked which “creates a really rich broth,” King says of the process. The broth is then used in the pot pie, seasoned with a blend of herbs and seasonings. “There’s a local Amish family that have been in herbs for years,” says King. The mixture, Ada’s Herbs, is used to season the broth he points out, “which really enhances the flavor.” Dough is mixed and freshly rolled on the day of the event, and added to the recipe, which fans praise for its warmly layered depth of taste.
The rest of the menu showcases other local dishes. There’s handmade pepper cabbage and pickles, as well as peas, which you can mix into your pot pie or enjoy solo. Applesauce is on the menu, along with fresh dinner rolls from the Bird-in-Hand Bake Shop on Gibbons Road. Dessert is sheet cake, topped with rich frosting and served with ice cream. (Take-out orders swap out cake and ice cream for another local treat that’s tidier to package—the whoopie pie.)
A tip from Hoerner: Purchase additional pot pie to take home. The plastic tubs can be stored in your hotel’s mini fridge, he reminds out-of-towners. “When you get the pot pie home and ready to serve,” Hoerner advises, “add some chicken broth to the pan, because the dough will have absorbed some of the broth.”
Proceeds of the pot pie dinner go towards purchasing firefighting equipment, trucks and gear, as well as maintaining the fire station. But, states Hoerner: “The benefit of the fundraiser is not just raising money.” He relishes how the event attracts the local community, including young people. (“They’re our new firefighters,” he points out.) It’s this mighty social pull that’s kept the fundraiser going strong for the last 30 years, drawing a dedicated following from the local community—and from communities far beyond Lancaster County.
This shared satisfaction, the uniquely positive flow that happens when people converge around a good and common cause, is not lost on the event’s producers and volunteers, some of who will rise in the middle of the night and fire up the stove at 3 am to start cooking on the day of the fundraiser. Preparation, which began many months earlier, will continue until doors open, and by the end of the day nearly 100 volunteers, a great many of them local Amish, will have served up nearly 1,000 gallons of chicken pot pie—a feat created from the minds and hands of a volunteer fire station, and received by a grateful people who understand how its presence is so vital. And who love that chicken pot pie.
“The community aspect,” King says of the fundraiser: “To me, that’s the most satisfying aspect.”