For almost 30 years, Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church has been rolling out the welcome mat on Thanksgiving Day by offering a hot, delicious, hearty meal accented by a heavy dose of mutual sharing and fellowship.
This year will be no exception as volunteers prepare their traditional Turkey Dinner complete with all the trimmings, including turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, coleslaw, corn, cranberries, as well as mega desserts, featuring plenty of pumpkin pie and specialty cakes.
Karen Beets, parish life coordinator at the church, has been overseeing the event for five years; parishioner Steve Perreault chairs the actual meal planning; Alice Marx Kuehn oversees the promotion of the event along with playing a key role in the kitchen on Wednesday and Thursday as the meal is prepared and served; David and Jane Lessard coordinate the takeout meals; and Robyn Johnston oversees the delivery and rides. Add to this, a dedicated staff of volunteers in a variety of capacities and you have the makings for another successful Thanksgiving meal, Beets said.
The last couple of years the church has prepared for 700 dinners including dine in, takeout and delivery, and at Churches United for the Homeless, where the food is taken and served at the conclusion of the Blessed Sacrament meal.
"We cook about 70 turkeys, half on Wednesday, and half on Thursday morning, Beets said. "We work two full days to pull this off. It's long, long hours but we have a lot of fun doing it."
Most of the food is donated by parishioners and grocery related outlets. "We try and do mostly pumpkin pies and cakes for desserts," Beets said, many of which are baked by parishioners, with several, mostly apple and cherry, graciously donated by Village Inn.
The time and dedication of the numerous volunteers is always key to the meals' success. "There are always the regulars, but many new volunteers evolve from year-to-year," Beets stated. "A lot of times, it's people I don't know. They call and ask to help and we never turn anyone down. They all help in varying ways. Usually, it's the parishioners that actually cook the meal because they are familiar with the process; while others help serve the meal, cleanup, or drive the delivery or pick up vehicle making it possible for those housebound to attend the event."
"When I first started, Steve would tell me 'don't worry, you will have enough people.' The first year I had more people than I knew what to do with. A lot of people will come and eat and then help out."
Beets said the event has turned into a "real feel good experience" adding she has such an excellent core group that "it has reached the point where they don't have to really meet anymore because everybody knows what's expected, what works and what doesn't."
Beets joked about her first year experience, noting that two turkeys were cooked in a roaster that was forgotten in a classroom. Volunteers came to clean the next day and "it smelled so good" in the church yet. On Saturday, Beets said she received massive phone calls, never answering any. Someone had discovered the roaster and by that time the smell had turned to 'awful,' so much so it lingered in the church for weeks to follow. Beets quickly made light of the incident, ordering a T-shirt for meal organizer Steve Perreault with the inscription 'I can make your whole turkey dark meat!' Now we always count the roasters and make sure we know where they all are. We could have burnt the church down!"
Consequently, the Thanksgiving gathering continues to thrive and grow, with Beets emphasizing that the meal is open to everyone in the community wishing to enjoy food and fellowship with others. "You don't have to be needy to attend, we welcome everybody, including whole families. If you have company in town and they want to come and eat that would be great. It's just a wonderful time and we enjoy the people that come and celebrate. We know there are people that are looking for a place to go and if we can provide that here at the church, then that is what it is all about."
Those unable to drive or attend can either call ahead and have meals delivered or request a ride the morning of the meal to the church and back home again. "We will have people manning the phones," Beets said, "so if they decide they want to eat, they can certainly call and we will send someone to pick them up. The same applies with take out orders."
Following the meal, the remaining food is delivered to Churches United, a pet project of Blessed Sacrament parishioners, who typically serve the meal there the fourth and fifth Thursday of each month.
So if anyone is looking for a welcoming place to dine on Thanksgiving day, Beets encourages you to join the comradery at Blessed Sacrament Church. "We'd love to have you. It is always so satisfying to see the smiles on the faces of everyone and how much fun they are having in a safe and cozy environment."
There is no charge for the meal, only a freewill offering, which always results in some very spirited and generous giving, with the proceeds going directly into the church's poor fund for distribution to individuals in need for gas, groceries, rent, etc.
The Thanksgiving meal will be served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the dining hall at Blessed Sacrament, 210 5th Ave. W. Takeout meals and/or rides can be arranged by calling the church office at 701-282-3321.