Volunteers lend helping hand during 33rd Annual Twin Ports Thanksgiving Buffet
Organizers reported a high volunteer turnout for the annual College of St. Scholastica meal.
DULUTH — There was an abundance of food, helping hands and gratitude during the 33rd annual Twin Ports Thanksgiving Day Buffet on Thursday. The free community meal was hosted by the College of St. Scholastica at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.
Organizers reported a high volunteer turnout, with a slower-than-usual start during the event's first in-person gathering since the beginning of the pandemic.
"We weren't sure about how many volunteers would return after COVID," said Monica Hendrickson, the event's organizer for the past nine years. "We're thankful for those who came out to help. We're also thankful to the community, private donors and businesses. We had a lot of last-minute needs, and businesses answered the calls."
First-year volunteer Jake Jauss, of Duluth, joined his two sisters, nephews and niece to help serve during the event. "It's a great way to give back to the community," Jauss said, adding he plans to volunteer again next year.
Dining room volunteer coordinator Kris Hershey has helped out with the event in previous years, alongside her sister, mother, fiance, father and brother-in-law, who are all involved with organizing the meal.
"In comparison to years past, it’s going very well," Hershey said. "We’ve got fabulous volunteers and we’ve got plenty of them. The ham is delicious. You know, some people have a preference, but I have heard no complaints."
Approximately 1,400 meals were delivered to homebound individuals and their caretakers on Thanksgiving morning.
Ham was served this year instead of the usual turkey because the 2,000 pounds of turkey needed could not be pre-ordered due to a shortage.
Around noon, there was a steady trickle of guests taking their seats to enjoy the ham dinner, complete with homemade mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, vegetables, dinner roll and cake.
"Usually there's a long line, but it's getting busier," Hendrickson said.
Skip VanKessel, of Duluth, also turned out to give back. Both he and his wife are College of St. Scholastica graduates. With children living in New York and Washington, the couple decided to spend their holiday at the DECC volunteering together.
"It's not as busy as they said it should be, but maybe it will get busier. I think part of it was because they're serving ham this year," VanKessel said.
Duluth resident Kaye Bergman joined her son and daughter-in-law for the meal. While she prefers turkey, she was thankful for the opportunity to spend the holiday with family.
"I’ve been coming here for many years with my son. It was just the two of us and because of the way he worked, I could never make a meal at home because I never know when we can be there," Bergman said.
Rural Living Environments direct support staff Patty Skube traveled to the event from Babbitt with her client to meet with her family for dinner.
"She comes here every year to meet her dad," Skube said. "As for the free meal, I think it’s unreal. I don’t know how they do it, but it’s great. I’m glad it’s available for everybody."
Diana Jereczek, of Duluth, came to the DECC to lend a helping hand with her son, as well as enjoy the meal with her family after participating in the Gobble Gallop 5K on Thursday. Jereczek also gives back in many other ways throughout the holidays by donating blood and wrapping gifts at the mall.
"The event's going really well," she said. "I'm surprised. We expected there to be more people. I don’t know, maybe the food shelves had enough, but it’s hard for me to believe because it seems like everyone at Second Harvest keeps asking for more donations."
Ruby Wallan, of Duluth, heard about the free meal through her church, and decided to attend with her husband.
"It sounded like a good thing; neither one of us cooking," Wallan said. "I am really enjoying life. I’m retired and Duluth is a good place. There is a lot to do. There’s things like this that I think are a really worthwhile. Duluth is my home."