A local tradition returned Sunday, packing the large pavilion at Union’s City Park for hours.

The Franklin County FFA Foundation played host to its 24th cookout. It would have reached the quarter-century mark if not for being canceled in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Volunteers prepared 1,000 all-you-can-eat pork, lamb and beef dinners, which sold for $12 each. This year’s event also featured a takeout option. Many took advantage of that, but it was still hard to find a seat at the pavilion picnic tables.

Money raised at the event goes to Franklin County FFA chapters in Union, Washington, St. Clair and Sullivan, as well as the FFA’s 199-acre farm in Stanton, where students can shoot on a trap range and learn other vocational skills.

The event sold 740 of its tickets in advance, which was down about 150 from 2019, the last time it was held. But FFA Foundation President David Bevfoden said they were pleased with the turnout.

“We just went ahead and pulled the trigger and did it outside,” he said.

Students from all the local FFA chapters helped out, though Union FFA students had to head down the street to the fairgrounds to assist with the Antique Tractor Pull when it started around noon. The tractor pull, in its 17th year, went ahead in 2020 without the cookout.

“They were more spread out and could distance,” Bevfoden said of the tractor pull. “But here, we were in close proximity and all that.”

The event typically brings in $6,000 to $7,000 each year for the FFA Foundation.

“The most rewarding part is the grants we can raise for the schools,” said foundation Treasurer Jim Strubberg, who spent much of the day preparing the meat. “They can use that money for things the districts don’t pay for.”

Organizers were concerned about how much they would raise because of the rising cost of food, though the cookout receives pork and lamb donations from buyers at the Washington Town & Country Fair.

Around 120 FFA students helped out Sunday. The FFA Foundation works to keep them interested in agriculture after they leave school.

“We try to keep the kids involved as long as we can,” Strubberg said.

Also assisting are the 19 FFA Foundation board members and their spouses.

Sunday’s event likely got a strong walk-up crowd because of good weather. That hasn’t always been the case.

Bevfoden remembers one year when a foot of rain was on the ground when volunteers arrived. “We had to wait just a little bit, but we got everything up and running,” he said.