ARLEY - The southern fried delicacy of chitterlings or chittlins, as they are commonly termed in the south, can be enjoyed the same, whether in person or picking them up pre-packaged in a drive-through format.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is creating major changes to the upcoming 62nd chittlin supper set Friday, March 19, resulting in a poll being posted on the What’s Happening in Arley Facebook page.
The poll is needing public input to mark one of two options, either 1) to have the chittlin supper as an in-person format but with changes including a drive up or drive through format for those not comfortable with large gatherings or 2) picking up the food in a drive-up only format.
The drive-up or drive-through format would be a grab and go with the public arriving either to pick up a plate of grilled chicken or a plate of fried hog intestines known as chittlins.
Due to the ongoing pandemic, the plates are being downsized to include only two sides this year, such as cole slaw and potato salad.
The public is being urged to visit the Facebook page and mark their choice on the poll within the next two weeks, in order to give school officials an idea of what direction the chittlin supper needs to go this year.
Either way, school officials assured that the chittlin supper, which is now the only source of funding for the Meek High School Band of Champions, will be held in some type of format.
Meek High School Principal Marla Murrah and Band Director Kevin Dunham met recently to discuss the options of this year’s chittlin supper format.
“Right now, we are entertaining a few options depending on the community’s preference and safety concerns,” Durham said.
The option for the traditional in-person chittlin supper would be that the public should stay in their family units six feet apart from other families.
People would need to wear a mask or facial covering upon entering the Meek High School cafeteria where the supper is annually held.
The process of those receiving plates in the in-house format will be different, with the public urged to order their plates in advance, Dunham added.
Those attending in-house will note that the plates will not be prepared in their presence as in previous years, but rather will be pre-packaged and ready for pickup.
Those attending will not go through a serving line, but rather the plates will already have been made for them, Murrah explained.
This is why people will need to call ahead and place an order. Options are being considered, whether the $8 supper tickets will be done electronically.
Tickets will not go on sale until the type of supper format is decided, school officials said.
“We have never done pre-sale tickets for the chittlin supper,” Murrah noted. “But if there ever was a year to do it, this is the year, simply because we need to know what product we need, but we also need to make sure people feel safe.”
This means that, whether or not the supper is held in-person, the drive through or pick up option will still be available.
“It may be entirely drive through,” Murrah reminded. “The pandemic changes, depending on the rate of infection and the recommendations at the time.
“We might have to be entirely drive through, but one thing is certain and that is we intend to make the chittlin supper, the 62nd annual chittlin supper, a reality,” Murrah pointed out.
A decision has not been made on whether or not to have live entertainment or the tradition chittlin supper features of hog calling, buck dancing or chittlin king and queen--all depending on the decision on type of format.
So far, the poll results on Facebook are quite a mix, with some residents desiring to have both an in-person supper as well as drive through or grab and go format.
Others have expressed their concern for being out at public gatherings during the pandemic. Results are neck-and-neck between option 1 and option 2 on the online poll, according to Murrah.
“I don’t think we’re going to have a total in-person format,” she said. “We will have an option of drive through, regardless.”
School officials are also discussing the format of the actual drive up or drive through format.
The public can either drive up to the elementary school entrance in a circular drive, and students or volunteers will bring their plates out to them, or the public can drive up to the parking area of the high school gym.
“It’s just the congestion around our (cafeteria area) for the chittlin supper is to where we don’t want to add any other issues that would pose a safety hazard,” Murrah stated.
“We would kind of like to get the drive through option away from the actual venue,” she added.
“There are decisions that may have to be made a week or leading up to the chittlin supper,” Murrah admitted.
Regardless of the format chosen, the chittlin supper will be a way to raise funds to help students in the MHS band program.
“We don’t want to miss out on a cultural event that so defines our school and our area,” Murrah pointed out. “We just have to figure out creative ways to be safe and to sustain.
“I feel confident that our parents and our school here can do that,” Murrah continued.
Last year’s chittlin supper raised approximately $1,776 for the band.
Due to the pandemic, band competitions were eliminated later in the year as well as the band’s planned trip to perform at Dollywood in Pigeon Force Tennessee, Dunham stated.
So, instead of using last year’s chittlin supper proceeds in those areas, funds were set aside and used as needed for instrument repairs and supplies, the band director added.
Proceeds from this year’s chittlin supper will continue to be used toward the instrument fund, according to Dunham.
“It costs a lot to make a band run smoothly, just for upkeep,” he said. “It really adds up...
“The number one thing I can say about this is safety is our number one concern,” Dunham said. “We want to have a great time. We want to have our tradition and we want to support the band, but we also want to make sure we are doing everything safe.”
Dunham admits he is anxious to see what the poll results are on this year’s chittlin supper format.
In the past, those in the public, who did not want to stay for the chittlin supper, would pick up plates to go, Murrah explained.
“We just want to give everybody who wanted to come and enjoy a way to do so,” she said.
“There’s plenty of people that they don’t want to come to an in-person gathering. That is perfectly fine. We respect that decision,” Murrah continued.
“It does help us to be able to plan how we need to conduct this event, so we welcome the input of our community and our supporters,” Murrah said.
A decision has also been made while discussing changes to have the chittlin supper the third Friday of March each year, regardless of when the primary election is held.
The chittlin supper dates were moved to late February or the first of March in previous years, to coordinate with the timing of the primary elections in March, officials said.
This year, chittlin supper pandemic T-shirts are being printed but will not be for sale. They will be for the band and volunteers, Murrah explained.
“We are playing around with some fun little ideas,” she said. “A pig in a pandemic.”
See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.