Hempfield woman’s makeshift kitchen at Westmoreland Fair fuels 4-H members
The llamas were still resting in their pens Tuesday when Brenda McGill fired up the home fries.
About 7 a.m., she turned on a two-burner electric cooktop to start another day in her makeshift kitchen in a barn shared by llamas and horses at the Westmoreland Fair.
McGill, 53, knows by heart the breakfast orders of the llamas’ caretakers, 4-H kids and their families.
She can name who in the regular breakfast crowd likes sausage and who prefers their eggs scrambled. She loads disposable plates with a hearty meal to start the day while members of club she leads — Mountain View 4-H Ag — clean up their living spaces and care for the llamas during the 10-day agricultural fair.
“It’s a lot better than eating the fair food,” said Lindsey Klosky, 17, who is spending the week at the fairgrounds in Mt. Pleasant Township helping friends with their animals.
“Brenda takes a lot of time to make us a heartfelt meal,” she said. “If we didn’t have her, we’d be spending a couple hundred dollars on food.”
McGill — she has worked in food service for much of her life — spends the weeks leading up to the fair creating a menu at her Hempfield home and making lists of what she needs to bring to feed dozens of people while she spends every night in the barn with her four- and two-legged charges.
What started as a few nights at the fair with tables of food has blossomed in the past few years into “Brenda’s Kitchen,” designated by a wooden sign hanging in the pen between two llamas, Nutberry and Mia.
McGill started showing llamas at the fair 20 years ago and got hooked. Now she brings everything — including a kitchen sink — she needs to run the kitchen daily. There’s a mini fridge, microwave, coffee pot, griddle, toaster, roasting pans and slow cookers powered by a network of extension cords. She prepares some of the food ahead of time at home. People who sleep over in the barn during the fair pitch in with side dishes.
“It really helps out, especially with a family of five,” said Dave Kalaluhi of Penn Township, whose stepdaughter Lexie Ferruolo, 14, is showing llamas and sheep this year.
Kalaluhi sat down at a plastic table with a plate of French toast and sausage Tuesday with his two young sons, who are getting a taste of fair life this week.
“It’s really helpful; everybody contributes for dinners,” he said.
Barn superintendent Bob Gettemy of Unity stops by every morning to get a cup of “plain” coffee from McGill, and sometimes a hot breakfast.
“There’s always stuff in here,” he said. “The kids pick all day long.”
The week’s dinner menu includes lasagna, meatball hoagies, Italian sausage, pierogies and hamburgers.
On Tuesday, McGill ferried out full breakfast plates to nine children and adults who gathered around a table, preparing for a day of showing their animals in competitions or cleaning up after them.
“It makes it feel even more like we’re a family,” Lexie said. “Not everyone has that.”
McGill does get a few hours each day to herself to relax between cooking meals and making sure there’s enough ice to keep the bottled water cold.
She also helps her 4-H charges keep their llamas’ pens clean.
In return, the children are quick to show their love for her.
While the group sat together eating breakfast on Tuesday, McGill stood with her own plate, watching them at the door to her pen-turned-kitchen.
“It’s fun — look at their faces,” she said. “Every one of them is happy.
“I’m happy that I’m making them happy.”
Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-837-5374 or [email protected].