Room for everyone at the Thanksgiving dinner tableFor the past 24 years, Chef Jack Teske has worked to ensure that everyone in the Northland has someplace to go for a Thanksgiving meal.
For the past 24 years, Chef Jack Teske has worked to ensure that everyone in the Northland has someplace to go for a Thanksgiving meal.
“That’s my goal, to reach out to more people who may not have a place to go, or might have food issues, or whatever, to come and join our family,” says Teske, “because that’s what community is. That’s what we
Teske is the food director for the annual Twin Ports Thanksgiving Buffet. The free buffet takes place on Thanksgiving at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, and serves about 5,000 every year.
Teske has been involved since from the beginning.
“I worked at a restaurant in Superior and my boss started the dinner as a way for the restaurant to give back to the community,” says Teske.
After five years, the event moved to the DECC to accommodate the growing number of attendees. About 15 years ago, Teske presented it to the administration at the College of St. Scholastica, which has since become a key backer. Teske also works as the operations manager of St. Scholastica’s food service. After St. Scholastica took over, the number continued to grow.
Teske decided about six years ago to spread it to the communities surrounding Duluth.
“I thought, we’re doing great in Duluth but how about people in the rural areas around here? I felt there was really a need for them to celebrate Thanksgiving too,” says Teske.
He started “satellite locations” in Two Harbors and Cloquet. It was successful in each city and both have continued to serve Thanksgiving meals. Last year, another satellite location was started in Carlton.
Teske says the Thanksgiving committee works with the community members in each location.
“We don’t cookie-cutter each location. We go to the community and find out what they need,” says Teske. “We furnish food, support, advertising, things like that.”
The food at every location is a traditional Thanksgiving dinner consisting of roasted turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy squash, vegetables, dinner rolls, cranberries and, of course, pumpkin pie. Teske says he tries to use as many local food products as possible.
Teske says volunteers are always great in number and sometimes travel a great distance to serve.
“I have volunteers who come from the Twin Cities every year,” says Teske.
He gave an example of a man who comes from the Cities every year to help with the garbage. He used to live in Duluth, and helps carry out the trash even though he’s moved away.
“The greatest joy I get is working with people who give their hearts,” said Teske.
The dinner also gathers a group of volunteers in uniform to deliver 1,000 meals to homebound residents throughout the area. Teske says they make sure that the person coming to the door is someone in a uniform “so that people didn’t feel like someone in strange clothes could barge in.”
The group of uniformed delivery people consists of UPS drivers, Gold Cross ambulance crew and members of the 148th Air National Guard based in Duluth.
“People say sometimes that they can’t make a difference in the world.” said Teske. He maintains that an act as simple as serving food or taking away
a dirty dish makes a difference — because it is treating a person with respect and dignity.
To Teske, the hard work put in by all the volunteers is worth it. He says his favorite part of the day is when he sits down at a table to share a meal with people he doesn’t know.
“We all want the same thing, have basic needs. We want some kind of food, to be with friends and family, especially on Thanksgiving. And dignity. It’s an event where everyone is accepted, we join in conversation, and on this day we come together, as a city and as a nation,” said Teske.