MMU Easter Feast Serves Up Holiday Spirit

Mount Marty University students (right) go through the line while MMU staff and volunteers serve up food during the Easter dinner Sunday afternoon at Cimpl Arena.  

For Andy Bernatow, Sunday’s Easter meal was about much more than the 165 pounds of meat and the sides that went with it.

The Mount Marty University baseball coach believes it’s repaying the kindness he was shown as a MMU student.

“When I was a student, I showed up on campus. I was 17 years old, I didn’t have a car and my parents lived 13 hours away at the time,” he said. “There were a lot of people who took care of me, and now it’s a bit of paying it forward. It has come full circle.”

In past years, he organized a Thanksgiving meal for athletes staying on campus. The gesture was expanded this year to include Easter and has been opened to all students who could not go home for those two holidays.

Along the way, a number of volunteers donated everything from food and cash to their time and labor in making and serving the meal.

“Extending it to all students started a couple Thanksgivings back when we had a snow storm and a few of my players inquired about other students needing a meal. This is the first time we did it for Easter, and it was open to everybody who couldn’t make it home,” he said.

“This is pretty grassroots with food being cooked, smoked and prepared by baseball coaching staff, parents of current players, a few others in the athletic department and a few friends that have stepped up to help out.”

The same hospitality was offered this winter, when athletes and others remained on campus for what became an extended two-month Christmas break because of the pandemic.

“Over break, I helped serve meals to the basketball teams or whoever needed it because the food service is shut down,” he said. “We kept it pretty simple, like soup and sandwiches, that we offered it every day. We learned what the students liked and mixed it up over time.”

Regardless of the holiday or situation, Bernatow said it follows the same concept of reaching out to others.

“The mind set is pretty simple on its own. For me, it’s kind of the Mount Marty way. It’s how we treat and value people,” he said. “College is more than education, more than athletics. It’s the entire idea of giving back. It’s an opportunity, like we did today.”

Bernatow quickly deflects credit, pointing to the outpouring from others that make such major meals come together.

“People care more about others than themselves,” he said. “It shows a great deal of selflessness for others to spend part of their holiday making others a meal.”

FEEDING THE HUNGRY

Bernatow estimated 110 students and staff took part in Sunday’s meal, the first on campus since the food service closed last Wednesday for Easter break.

“We want to make sure they’re getting a good meal and a healthy meal,” he said. “I hope they come hungry!”

The menu provided a carnivore’s dream come true. The meal included 15 pounds of ribs, 20 pounds of pulled pork, 55 pounds of brisket, 24 pounds of sausage, 22 pounds of ham, 10 pounds of pork loin and 20 pounds of burnt ends.

And that didn’t include 50 pounds of cheesy hash browns, smoked baked beans, pasta salad, buns, corn bread and a variety of homemade brownies, bars, cake and Oreo fluff.

“We’re starting to talk a little gluttony here today,” Bernatow with a chuckle, referring to one of the seven deadly sins. “I’ll ask for God’s (forgiveness) later.”

The quartet that smoked the meat included Bernatow, MMU assistant baseball coach Jason Nelson, and Mike Townsend and Brady Muth, whose sons play on the Lancer baseball team.

“Between the four of us, we smoked 165 pounds of meat. That was our starting weight, and it’s all gone,” Bernatow said. “The cheesy hash browns are also really popular, and all 50 pounds are gone.”

Bernatow and others started their meat stock-up far ahead of the meal. They stretched the available funds by looking for deals at local supermarkets and lockers, along with any donated cash or food.

“My dad brought pork loins up from Omaha. He’s always donating meat and driving up with it for our meals,” he said. “We got social media coverage, and I know people were calling and texting about what they could do. It’s fun when people are willing to give a helping hand. It’s the hospitality aspect.”

Bernatow said he ran his meat smoker 68 straight hours, using a phone app allowing him to monitor and send commands to the smoker.

“I can sleep while it’s smoking, as long as I make sure there are enough pellets,” he said.

FEELING LIKE HOME

During Sunday’s meal, the students expressed their appreciation for the kindness shown in making Easter so special even if many of them are halfway around the world from their families.

The gathering was held on campus at Lancers Landing, the balcony in Cimpl Arena. A long serving line ran along one wall, and tables with six to eight chairs ran throughout the balcony.

Colombian soccer player Kenji Aparcio said he wasn’t aware of the Easter meal until receiving a message from his coach. He was glad to learn about it and take part in the gathering, enjoying brisket for the first time.

“I’m really grateful for the meal. When I got here, it was a big surprise to see all the good food. It was very kind of them to make this meal, especially when there are no (food service) hours,” he said.

“A lot of students don’t have those kinds of resources. It’s hard for them to go and find food now. That he does this (meal) for Easter, it’s something that’s very kind, especially for the international students who are far from family. This is special for us to come and share with our fellow students on Easter. This was all a very pleasant experience.”

Italian soccer players Federico Ciandri and Luca Pereira were two more international students at Sunday’s meal.

“It’s something really good. As international students, we cannot (travel) long distances. We don’t have cars or a place to go (during holiday breaks),” Ciandri said. “We have started to establish a sort of international community here. Just look at this table. All of us are from other countries. We have Italy, Colombia, Serbia and Ghana.

Isaac Sam, a soccer player from Ghana, has attended both the Thanksgiving and Easter dinners.

“It’s amazing that Coach Bernatow finds the time to make food for the community,” he said. “This is some great food and very delicious. I’m excited to be here today, and it’s pretty cool to have interaction with one another.”

Not all of Sunday’s guests were international students.

Baseball player Jet Weber hails from Elkhorn, Wisconsin. The baseball team has played games during the Easter break, and he didn’t have enough time for the travel to see family members.

“I’m eight hours from home. It’s just a little too much of a drive, basically a whole day back and forth,” he said. “I think it’s super nice they had this meal. It shows the (Christian) values of the college, which is the chief reason I decided to move here after junior college. Coach Bernatow and all the coaches are so supportive of us. It shows he’s willing to do anything for us. He wants to give us everything he can, which is huge.”

Weber lives off campus and spends most of his time with his baseball teammates. For him, the meal provided a diverse group of people.

“This is really nice to spend time with other students, particularly on Easter by sharing a meal on a day celebrating Christ’s (death and) resurrection for our sins,” he said.

Another American, archer Kourtney Coney from Florida, said she enjoyed the meal, particularly the pulled pork. However, the fellowship also meant a great deal for her while far from home.

“A lot of students come here from all sorts of different places, from Italy, South Africa, Ireland, England and other countries,” she said. “We have sort of a niche population. When look at everyone here, it’s like (the world) all in one spot.”

MMU archery coach Vic Wunderle dropped by the meal and joined the other diners.

“I think it’s a really great thing that they’re doing this,” he said. “It’s giving an opportunity to many of the students who can’t make it home to be with family and friends because of the long travel time.”

The Easter gathering speaks volumes about the Benedictine value of hospitality that forms a foundation for the Catholic university, Wunderle said.

“They did an amazing job and went all out. If you couldn’t find something you liked here, I don’t know what to say,” he said. “It’s a great outreach and fosters a feeling of community at the school. The crowd keeps growing and growing.

“It’s wonderful to see people come together to celebrate Easter. A big ‘thank you’ to all who made it possible.”

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