Soul food: One layer at a time at Danbury church

Hi everyone,

Once a month, from September through May, the King Street United Church of Christ serves generous portions of homemade lasagna under its Danbury steeple.

For the folks who share in this gift — some from outside the congregation, but most from within — the dinner is nothing short of soul food, the sort of spiritual nourishment that gets better with each layer of lip-smacking lasagna made by Jessie Patton and Barbara Westby.

This isn’t your standard variety of soul food, however, the kind with its roots in Southern cooking, although that, too, follows a recipe sprung from pinches and dashes rather than teaspoons and measuring cups.

The monthly lasagna offering at King Street United Church of Christ is baked with the kind of proprietary ingredients that only come when three — and often, four — generations of a family come together.

In this case, it starts with 88-year-old Jessie, who spreads her sauce and her smile among the ricotta cheese and those undulating strips of noodles each month.

“My mother is a rock. She’s the one who got me involved in this,” said Becky (Patton) McKee. “She even takes home all of the big sauce jars so she can recycle them. She keeps telling me she wants to find an apprentice.”

It sounds like she already has.

The family affair continues with Becky, and her husband, David, the second generation in this monthly venture.

Becky helps out in the kitchen, boiling the water and browning the beef, while David breaks down the nursery and sets up 13 tables and dozens of chairs with the couple’s two sons, Nathan and Travis, the third generation here.

The McKee men also set up the coffee pots and the dessert table, site of the church’s formidable collection of pies, tapioca pudding and other treats.

Becky and David’s daughter, Jessica Balanda, also helps out. Sometimes, she and her husband, Marc, bring their young son, Caeden, the fourth generation in this remarkable volunteer effort.

“When we get all four generations involved, it’s really neat. We enjoy it,” Becky said. “It takes a lot of time — a pretty big chunk out of our Saturdays — but it’s only once a month.

“We figure that it’s our way of giving back to the church, because it’s given our family so much over the years.”

The magic, you see, is in the reciprocity.

The Patton-McKee family’s association with the King Street United Church of Christ began more than a century ago.

Jessie and her husband, John, were married in the church nearly 70 years ago, not too far from a kitchen that comes alive the second Saturday of each month.

Becky and David were married here, too, more than 40 years ago. Jessica and Marc also walked down the aisle of King Street United Church of Christ.

Not long afterward, of course, they were helping out on lasagna night.

Proceeds from the dinner — $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, $6 for kids under 10, and free for kids under 5 — benefit the church’s volunteer outreach work.

The next monthly dinner at King Street United Church of Christ is Saturday from 5 to 7 p.m.

Even if you’re not a big fan of lasagna and tapioca pudding, check it out for the soul food.

Brian Koonz