Amid India’s poverty, she saw people dying in the train stations. She watched colonies of lepers struggle with missing limbs.

So it’s no wonder Columbus’ Martha Doup cried many times after she returned in March 1962 from that two-month mission trip with her husband, George. But she eventually turned her tears to toil. And in 1965, she launched the First United Methodist Church Smorgasbord — an event that for years would fund the church’s outreach to the hurting people of India.

“Mother was so very moved by that trip,” said Columbus’ Nancy Jo Reed, the Doups’ daughter.

The smorgasbord’s founder died in 1997, as did her husband two years later. But the fundraiser that now attracts about 1,200 people lives on, and will mark its 50th celebration April 23 and 24 at the downtown Columbus church.

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Last year, it generated more than $12,000 for missions, which now go to efforts such as the local Love Chapel outreach, Columbus’ Volunteers In Medicine clinic for those without insurance, and other efforts including far-flung ministries worldwide.

“She would be so pleased (today),” Reed said of her mother’s view of the smorgasbord’s continuing success.

The last few years that Martha Doup helped with the event, foot problems plagued her severely and she battled constant pain, but she refused to take a seat and let others do the work related to what had become her project. Besides, she never forgot the pain of the people of India, including many who became her long-distance friends.

One of Reed’s favorite memories: making a fruit salad her mom called heavenly hash — or what others call ambrosia salad — for the first event.

Reed’s role?

Removing the seeds from the grapes — a task that she humorously refused to do after spending painstaking hours at the job that first time.

“I remember that we carried it in plastic buckets into the church,” Reed said.

She also recalls that her mother and other volunteers were uncertain of the dinner interest that first year. But when they opened the church doors, people were lined up on the sidewalk to enter and eat.

Cindy Witwer, a through-the-years volunteer now working with decorations, mentioned that the gathering holds significance beyond even the feeding or the missions impact.

“It is an event that still unites the church,” Witwer said. “You meet and talk to people even as you’re serving and volunteering. And some of them are people that you realize that you don’t know at all.”

Witwer also thinks back to Doup’s way with people, who knew she put her heart and soul into the event for the sake of others.

“You couldn’t say no to Martha,” Witwer said.

Organizers today understand they may have to work more diligently to attract a crowd than 50 years ago.

“Keep in mind that, when it started, there were not very many restaurants in town,” Witwer said. “Now, there’s all these additional choices out there. And I’m unsure if younger families automatically would think of a church (fundraiser) for dinner.”

Jewell Arthur began volunteering with her young family at the event in 1970 cleaning pots and pans. Then she worked with serving desserts — and then later in the dining room. She never has prepared food for the smorgasbord, known for its chicken and noodles and carrot casserole, among other items.

“I’m not a cook,” Arthur said. “I’m an eater.”

An eater of favorite dishes such as the meatballs, the pork tenderloins, the spinach salad, the deviled eggs, the … well, we could be here all day. She is as hungry to promote the event as she is to eat.

“Don’t just tell people to come,” Arthur said. “Tell them to come and eat both nights.”

Nancy Jo Reed definitely plans to attend. She acknowledged that it probably will be emotional for her. And she already feels sure she will feel her mother’s presence.

“She’ll be there (in spirit),” Reed said. “She’ll be there.”

Eat and feed others, too

What: 50th Annual First United Methodist Church Smorgasbord, which supports a range of local and worldwide missions, including feeding the less fortunate.

When: 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. April 23-24.

Where: At the church, 618 Eighth St. in Columbus.

Also: A country store with various handcrafted items. And entertainment at 5:30 and 6:15 p.m. daily from Nashville’s Melchior Marionettes.

Advance tickets: Adults: $12; children 4 to 10, $5; children 3 and younger, free. Tickets at the door: Adults, $14; children 4 to 10, $6; children 3 and younger, free.

Available from church members, at the church office, The Ark Book and Gift and Viewpoint Books. Carryout and delivery available.

For delivery, call the church office by 3 p.m. on the event day.

Information: 812-372-2851 or fumcccolumbus.org.

Smorgasbord by the numbers

2,720

Number of meatballs prepared

490

Pounds of green beans served

330

Pounds of canned carrots

100

Number of volunteers each night

Author photo
Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.