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Stirring The Pot - Area Womens Group Cooking Up Unforgettable Night
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Current YLI President Marge Lucas, at right, in a blast from the past photo with member Olivia Sandoval as they place the settings for the dinners. - photo by PHOTO COURTESY YLI MEMBERS

In just a handful of days the air surrounding the parish of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Oakdale will once again smell of corned beef and cabbage. This Saturday, March 12, will mark the 40th anniversary of the Annual Corned Beef Dinner.

The annual event is hosted at the church parish located at 1225 Olive St., Oakdale. Doors will open at 5 p.m. Dinner will be served until 8 p.m. The dinner includes freshly cooked corned beef, cabbage, carrots, red potatoes and bread (compliments of Moss Rose Bakery). Dessert and beverages are also available. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for children ages 6 to 12 and children 5 and under are free. Tickets may be purchased in advance or at the door. The event is open to the community and carry out orders are also an option.

The event serves as a major fundraiser for Mater Christi YLI (Young Ladies Institute) #140. Proceeds from this event, as well as others, enable the group to support varying projects including: scholarships to Oakdale and Riverbank students, Veronica’s Closet, the Children’s Guardian Home, Soroptimist International of Oakdale Women’s Transition House, Relay For Life and St. Vincent de Paul.

“All of Oakdale knows about this event,” Nicole Gregoris, Corned Beef Chairperson stated.

“It is the reason we try to sell so many tickets,” fellow YLI member and corned beef cook Anita Ramos said. “The money we raise allows us to do so much.”

The two women reported that on average the group, with the help of its volunteers, serves over 300 people the traditional St. Patrick’s Day corned beef and cabbage dinner over the course of the three-hour time frame.

YLI records indicate that the first event was hosted in 1971 and referred to then as the St. Patrick’s Dinner. At its inception the event was hosted by Knights of Columbus and the YLI. Bingo was played from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. and dinner followed. Beverly Alderson was the chairman that first year. The group served 74 guests at $2.50 a plate, netting them a nice profit — close to $150 — for their efforts.

As years went on and the event grew in popularity, the group hit milestones of breaking a $1,000 profit in 1988 and $2,000 in 2001.

As the two women share stories of dinners past, it becomes apparent that the event is a labor of love and dedication. Work begins for the women at 7:30 a.m. the morning of the dinner. They start preparing and cleaning three cases of cabbage donated by Save Mart Supermarket and 315 pounds of corned beef purchased from Modesto Meat Company.

“We have eight pots brewing all day,” Ramos said of the cooking of the meat. “You are rotating the meat all the time to keep it tender.”

Ramos credits her skill for cooking the corned beef to past cook Elizabeth Connolly. Connolly was reported as the third “Irish Cook,” according to the group’s records, lending her talents to the pot beginning in 1978.

Ramos makes no claims to Irish heritage, but shared after one ‘bad’ year of cooked corn beef, the group now has an appreciation for the process to make the meat just right.

The members stated that it takes a group of approximately 24 volunteers and members to keep the food flowing and the spaces cleaned for the next dinner guest.

“The most rewarding part is when people tell me what a good dinner it was,” Gregoris stated.

“It shows what our ladies group can do,” Ramos added.

“In the end of the day it’s a lot of work, but it’s so well worth it.”

Mater Christi YLI #140 celebrated it 75th anniversary in 2008 under the leadership of past President Umbelina Oliveira.

For tickets and additional information on the Saturday dinner, call Marge Cruz at 847-1414 or Nicole Gregoris at 847-7763.