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Serving it up to the community: First UMC plans community Thanksgiving dinner

Posted: Monday, Nov 12th, 2012

Sheron Chapman, left, and Joy Petersen, chairmen of the community Thanksgiving dinner, discuss plans for setting up the cold room, shown in the next photo filled with couches and games, including a foosball table. The dinner will be served between noon and 1 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day at First United Methodist Church. Reservations must be made by Nov. 19 for the free meal by calling the church office at 352-8604. PHOTOS BY LOUISE VAN POLL/PLAINSMAN

A Thanksgiving dinner is always better when shared with family, friends and neighbors and that is what Huron’s community Thanksgiving dinner is all about.

“This is the 18th annual Thanksgiving dinner,” said Joy Petersen, co-chairman of the event. The community dinner began in 1995 at American Lutheran Church, which hosted the event for a decade. In 2005 the United Methodist Church began hosting the popular dinner and Petersen and Sheron Chapman have chaired the organizational committee all eight years.

Last year, 300 meals were served. There is no charge for the meal, which includes turkey with all the trimmings. The dinner is served at the church, located at 2660 Dakota Ave. S., from noon to 1 p.m. Reservations for the free meal are required by Nov. 19 by calling the church office at 352-8604. Requests will also be taken for rides and home deliveries.

“It is so heartwarming to be part of this,” said Chapman. “Together, we can meet a need in the community. If you serve 300 meals, there is definitely a need out there. It gives you a special, warm feeling to know you are serving others.”

Last year, people came from Miller to enjoy the dinner and Petersen said they were actually the first ones in the door.

“People are so appreciative of this Thanksgiving dinner,” Petersen said. “Many people come back year after year. A lot of them could afford to buy a dinner or prepare one, but why when there is just the two of them? They enjoy the company and being with others. There are different needs out there that we can meet. We especially invite those families who are alone or those who are unable to prepare a Thanksgiving meal.”

The pair prepare enough food for 400, but the most meals they’ve served was 357 in 2010. Petersen said the weather has a lot to do with the numbers. “In nice weather, more people travel to visit family out of town or have family visit from out of town and they cook at home. But that’s OK because the workers like to take home the left overs.”

The traditional Thanksgiving dinner includes roast turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, hot vegetables, sweet salad, fresh buns, pies, condiments and beverage. And the enormous task of preparation begins days before the big day. Each year between 60 and 70 workers volunteer to set up tables, decorate, prep the food, cook and prepare each dish, serve, dish up, deliver, and clean up. Each separate crew has a manager who oversees that one aspect of the dinner. Many of them have helped in the same job for years and volunteers come from several area churches and even from out of town.

Dakota Provisions donates the 30 turkey breasts, which are cooked the night before. The kitchen crew peels, cooks and mashes the potatoes; no instant spuds here. The commercial-size potato peeler and mixer are borrowed from Holy Trinity Catholic Church. The congregation at First United Methodist Church sign up to bring the rest of the food. Petersen said the sign-up sheets were just about filled in.

“All we are lacking are pies, but we’re not worried. They’ll come,” she said. They serve mostly pumpkin, but also offer apple pie.

But for the Rev. Derek Baum, associate pastor at the church, the preparations begin the Monday before Thanksgiving. His office, which is also the youth room, is turned into the cold room for everything that needs to stay cool, such as salads, pies, toppings, pickles, cranberry sauce, butter and buns.

“Monday morning the heat goes off and the air conditioning is turned on,” laughed Baum. “They want it to get down to 50 degrees in there.”

The workers are told to dress warm because the cold room doesn’t only refer to the food, but to the temperature in the room itself. And somehow tables are brought in, boards are put on the game tables and furniture is rearranged to make room for all the food stored, sliced and served from there.

“It is a lot of work and there is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes,” said Chapman. “But I’m so glad we’ve gotten involved in this.”

And so are the 300-plus people who will enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, sitting around a table with old friends while making new ones, on Thanksgiving Day.

For the complete article see the 11-11-2012 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 11-11-2012 paper.

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