With several hundred pounds of carrots peeled and cut, more than a dozen volunteers were wrapping up in the kitchen at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center on Tuesday afternoon.

Volunteer Kevin Gunderson stepped outside the kitchen, asking Monica Hendrickson in the hallway, “Have the rolls come in yet?”

The crew of volunteers were putting the final touches on food preparation ahead of Thursday’s 26th annual Twin Ports Region Thanksgiving Buffet. About 900 volunteers prepare the food in the week ahead of Thanksgiving for the free dinner sponsored by the College of St. Scholastica, along with many other community partners, said Hendrickson, the event coordinator.

An estimated 6,000 meals will be served at the Thanksgiving Buffet from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday at the DECC. The Duluth Transit Authority is offering free bus service and special shuttles to the DECC on Thursday. Thanksgiving buffets will also be served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Public House (formerly the Cozy Cafe) in Carlton, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Cloquet and the Moose Lodge in Two Harbors.

Among those helping to prepare the food on Tuesday was Gary Elliott, president and CEO of Superior Choice Credit Union. He was volunteering with 18 of the credit union’s managers for the first time after being told about the Thanksgiving dinner by Gunderson, the former chair of the buffet committee.

After peeling carrots, some of the group filled cranberry containers while others packaged food to be sent to the satellite buffet locations in Carlton, Cloquet and Two Harbors.

“It was fun. It’s a different perspective from running a credit union,” Elliott said.

Volunteering to prepare the food is a chance for the co-workers to give back to the community together, said Gunderson, who volunteered for the inaugural Thanksgiving buffet more than two decades ago.

“It’s a great team-building event,” he said.

Hendrickson explained, “You see this huge sense of community in a time when the world seems cruel at moments.”

Many people volunteer for the same tasks at the buffet every year, whether it’s preparing the food, serving it or cleaning up afterward.

“It’s one of those events that takes on a life of its own,” Hendrickson said.

Although it takes months of planning, the menu is determined by both food donations from companies and monetary donations from community members and organizations, she said.

“Everything’s homemade. It’s a lot more prep work than ‘here’s a box of stuffing,’” she said.

The process of preparing the dinner began when 2,600 pounds of turkey were unloaded at the DECC on Saturday, and cooking the turkeys began on Monday. Volunteers will spend today boxing up food for 1,100 home deliveries and decorating the DECC for the buffet.

The food is set up on Thursday “and then it just happens,” Hendrickson said.

Any leftovers from the buffet go to Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank, Hendrickson said. She added, “It’s nice that leftovers go back into the community.”

During Thursday’s Thanksgiving Buffet, an estimated 2,600 pounds of turkey, 2,200 pounds of potatoes, 6,000 dinner rolls, 500 pounds of root vegetables and 150 gallons of gravy will be served at the DECC.

Free DTA rides on Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving will mark the 26th year the Duluth Transit Authority has provided free holiday service for riders.

The two shuttle buses, named “Turkey Bus 1” and “Turkey Bus 2” will carry passengers to the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center for the Thanksgiving dinner event.

The shuttle service will operate from the downtown transportation center, the Damiano Center and CHUM in Duluth. From Superior, the buses will operate from North 14th Street and Tower Avenue, the Royalton Manor, Clifford Lund Apartments and Solid Rock Mission.

Schedule details can be found at duluthtransit.com, or by calling (218) 722-SAVE.

Partners of the service include the College of St. Scholastica and the National Bank of Commerce.