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Annual food, fellowship event at Blessed Sacrament

Steve Perreault is marking his 25th year coordinating the annual Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church Thanksgiving Day gathering, and he wouldn't have it any other way.

On that note, he encourages everyone looking for a great meal and fantastic fellowship to come on over to the social hall to partake and enjoy on Thursday, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., with the menu featuring turkey and all the trimmings, including mashed potatoes and gravy, dressing, corn, relishes, cranberries, and pumpkin pie for dessert.

Overall, the annual event is observing its 29th year, with Perreault became involved during his first year as a parishioner at the church. "It was my son's (Brian) fault," he joked. "He was a Cub Scout at the time and wanted to earn a citizenship award. To do so, he had to help out with a service project so we helped out with the dinner." Younger son and brother, Chris, also wanted to help, so he came along, and the trio has been doing this as a joint venture ever since.

"It's fun and it's the family thing we do for Thanksgiving," Perrault said. "All three of us work, and the nearest relatives are two hours away. Now, because of our involvement, we look forward to Thanksgiving more than we do Christmas."

On the whole, Perrault said the event provides the opportunity for the church members to get together and share fellowship and to invite others in the community, including those less fortunate, with the main focus on providing a place for people to be on Thanksgiving. "For many, it's not practical to fix a whole dinner for themselves. This way they can enjoy Thanksgiving dinner and the fellowship also."

Another huge part of the event is providing rides for people who don't have transportation of their own to get to the hall for the event, as well as delivering meals to shut-ins or those unable to make it.

A special part of the latter is making sure that people who are working that day have a hot meal, including the local convenience store employees, as well as the fire and police department personnel on staff. Perrault said that sometimes the FM Ambulance crews are able to visit the hall and take the time to sit down and enjoy the meal.

Perreault said the event is such a huge success annually thanks to the effort of the countless dedicated volunteers. This year, they numbered approximately 120, working in a variety of capacities, from making dressing, to helping set up the day before, to whatever the need, describing their involvement as "crucial. A lot of people won't come just to eat, they come to help out in any way they can. This is very important. Without the volunteers this wouldn't happen, we just wouldn't get everything done."

With all the participation, it's only natural that the numbers associated with the meal continue to rise each year. "It seems to fluctuate with the weather and the economy," Perrault said. Last year they served over 700 meals, with 300 of those eaten at the church, another 300 sent out on deliveries, and 100 going to Churches United for the Homeless, where Blessed Sacrament volunteers serve a meal the fourth Thursday of every month.

After all this time, organizers also have the food planning down to an art. "

We've never run out of turkey," Perrault said. "A few times we've had to send people shopping for other things, but we've pretty much got it down to where we can handle it. The extras always go to Churches United, so nothing is ever wasted."

As we spoke on Monday morning, Perrault said about 40 turkeys of the total 75 that will be prepared for the meal, were being defrosted. Last Sunday, a group gathered at the church hall to cut up the bread that has been drying out since then that will go into the 'special dressing,' Perrault describes as a "secret recipe that changes every year," this year comprised of 80 loaves of bread, pork sausage, giblets from the turkeys, onion, celery and complementary spices, with the base liquid ingredient the broth, fresh from the passel of turkeys prepared the day before.

Perrault points out that there is no charge for the meal. "There is a freewill offering, but we don't expect anything." The food is all donated by the parish and other people in the community. Organizers usually acquire extra turkeys at the time, that are left frozen, so they can be placed in food baskets at Christmas and distributed to families in need. "We normally make enough money to defray the costs of the Christmas baskets," Perrault explained. "The meal was never meant to be a profit making event, but the generosity of the good will offering makes it possible to give more baskets."

Like the Perrault family, several others also look forward to the event year after year. "There are a lot of people who keep coming back," Perrault noted. "We also gain new people every year who find out about it and come and help, and then come back again." He said people who started attending when they were 'flat broke' whose lifestyles have now changed for the better are among those returning because they enjoy it and are also now contributing to the excellent cause.

He is also gratified by the kind words of thanks received from those sharing in the meal and fellowship. "We hear all kinds of things. Sometimes people get lost in the shuffle, and they just appreciate the fact someone is thinking about them."

Perrault repeats, the Thanksgiving gathering is open to anyone wishing to attend or have a meal delivered. "There are no boundaries, no limits, we just encourage anyone looking for a meal and fellowship and a way to celebrate Thanksgiving to attend or call."

Drivers who work for several local food delivery companies in town will be among the delivery and ride volunteers. Individuals can either call ahead of time or the morning of the Thanksgiving meal to make arrangements at 701-282-3321. Blessed Sacrament Church is located at 210 5th Ave. W., West Fargo.