“You don’t have to be a yankee to love lobster,” says Peter Mudar, a member of Church of the Servant and one of many volunteers who are helping prepare for the 32nd annual Lobster Fest this Saturday.
Maybe it’s because it’s drowning in butter or because Church of the Servant serves it with potatoes, slaw, corn on the cob, sausage, and a roll, but lobster is a hit in the South. This small local church sells nearly 2,000 lobsters each year and makes close to $20,000 on their sole fundraiser alone.
Not only does it raise money for the church, but the congregation also gives 10 percent of their funds to several community outreach programs, including Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard and the Bargain Box. Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, a local organization, provides emergency food to community members in need of it. Once a month they provide three to five days worth of groceries, along with other special services, like toiletries and infantry needs.
A unique organization founded by members of Church of the Servant, the Bargain Box thrift store resales gently used clothing and home goods to the greater Wilmington area. However, items that are too used to sell in the shop are sent to India, Africa and Mexico for people in need or are placed in the Bargain Box’s “Free Bin,” located outside the store. They offer training and employment as well to folks who have had a rough go in life or are coming out of homelessness.
Because of Lobster Fest, Church of the Servant indirectly supports programs such as First Friday Dinners at Good Shepherd Center. Though Good Shepherd Center started out as a small soup kitchen, it has since grown to serve meals daily, thanks to the support and donations from Church of the Servant and their Bargain Box thrift store. As well, last year the church donated to “Stop Hunger Now,” an organization based out of Raleigh that is striving to end world hunger.
Mudar says 30 years ago Reverend Joe Cooper started this event and had neighbors on Harbor Island from up north who often talked about their love for lobster. Cooper decided he would host a party and cook lobster for everyone attending. The party became an annual event, slowly growing every time he hosted it. In 1983, Cooper moved it to the church. Thus Lobster Fest officially began. The Harbor Island tradition still continues after the festival; the remaining lobsters are relocated to the island along with one of the cookers. Tables and chairs line the streets and form a Lobster Fest block party that continues on through the rest of the evening, beginning at 7 p.m. Tickets for this event are also open to the public and available to purchase for $21.
Mudar nearly has been there from the beginning. He and his wife moved to Wilmington from Atlanta, Georgia, where he worked for a paper company and his wife worked for Coca-Cola. Quickly, they became involved with Church of the Servant due to his wife’s love of singing. Little did she know she would commit to running the Lobster Fest eight years in a row.
“It was pretty exciting,” she says. “I took [the job] before I was even a member of the church. It was a great way to meet people. When it all comes together on the actual day it really is a festival. Everyone chips in and helps. It really feels good to help out the community.”
She has since passed on the torch. For 2016, Mary Ames Booker (USS Battleship North Carolina curator of collections) and Ryan Norris have taken charge. As many as 125 members of the church volunteer to help reel in the lobsters from Maine and cook them for such a large crowd.
“Two days before we put them in the pot, [the lobsters] are in the ocean,” Mudar tells. Somehow the congregation of 375 people manages to serve a couple thousand lobsters in their sanctuary, throw the Harbor Island Block Party at 7 p.m. that evening, and still be ready for their church service the next morning.