Free holiday meal adds two locations
The turkeys were the first to arrive. They appeared at the kitchen of the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center late Friday morning, nearly a ton of light and dark meat. The rest of the food will trickle in today and Tuesday -- 1,800 pounds of p...
The turkeys were the first to arrive.
They appeared at the kitchen of the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center late Friday morning, nearly a ton of light and dark meat.
The rest of the food will trickle in today and Tuesday -- 1,800 pounds of potatoes, 500 dozen rolls and 4,000 servings of corn. And finally, on Thursday, will come the people, each to enjoy the 17th annual free Thanksgiving feast at the DECC.
"We want everyone to feel welcome," said Jack Teske, food service operations manager at the College of St. Scholastica, which sponsors the event.
This year, those welcoming arms will circle a little larger. The buffet is expanding to satellite locations in Cloquet and Two Harbors to fill a need in both communities, organizers say.
"I think it's an incredible thing," said Capt. Tim Gardner of the Cloquet Salvation Army. "This has been our vision for the community for quite some time."
The meal at the Cloquet Armory will replace the Thanksgiving baskets the Salvation Army used to hand out this time of year, Gardner said.
In Two Harbors, where people will feast at Holy Spirit Catholic Church, the event will become the only communitywide celebration.
A local restaurant used to put on a Thanksgiving meal for low-income and homeless people in the Two Harbors area, said volunteer coordinator Gerri Lampart. Lately, though, there's been nothing to fill that void.
It's easy enough to identify the need for such an event. But pulling it together is something else. A core group of organizers has met once a week for three straight months to nail down every detail.
During their last meeting on Thursday at St. Scholastica, last-minute questions flowed forth as thick as turkey gravy. A volunteer who also is a violinist had offered to play for the diners -- would that work? Santa's chair was being delivered from a local furniture store -- what would it look like? How best to distribute the limited number of tickets to the Omnimax Theater, and what about the idea of having a volunteer barber and masseuse on site?
The event has grown significantly from its early days, when volunteers focused on dishing out the turkey and mashed potatoes. The meal still is what draws people to the DECC. Organizers now want to provide a day of entertainment and fellowship as well -- and even the equivalent of post-Thanksgiving leftovers.
"We're not only feeding their bodies, we're feeding their souls," event chairwoman Ruth Erdmann-Sluka said.
Santa will make an appearance, volunteer entertainment is lined up, there will be gifts and crafts for children and more than 1,000 take-home meals that include a turkey sandwich, fruit and a cookie will be there for the grabbing.
It takes a small army of volunteers to pull off each event, partly because organizers want everyone to feel welcome and at home. There is a need for volunteer greeters and seaters in Duluth, and people to take coats and serve plates in Cloquet.
"We're trying to make our dinner feel like a family meal, like people are at a restaurant," Gardner said. "We're not looking for a community meal. When I hear that, the first thing I think of is another mission meal. I want people to know this is for anyone that wants to come in. You don't have to be poor, you don't have to be homeless for people to come together and have a wonderful Thanksgiving."
That includes volunteers who return year after year, said Teske, who has been involved with each dinner since they began. Teske looks forward to seeing the same elderly man ladling out the gravy each year. Though he doesn't know the man's full name, he still feels close.
"We're like a family that gets together just once a year," Teske said.