LINK seeks volunteers for annual Thanksgiving dinner

In this file photo from Nov. 28, 2016, Frank Ybarra serves a man during the annual LINK Thanksgiving dinner. Mary Olson, Janet Buie, Ybarra and Samantha Hauber were among about 150 volunteers who helped prepare, serve and deliver Thanksgiving meals for about 800 people.

In just a few weeks, Deb Engstrom will serve Thanksgiving dinner to an estimated 700 people — and she’s going to need some help to make it happen.

The Lawrence Interdenominational Nutrition Kitchen, aka LINK, is seeking volunteers for its annual Thanksgiving dinner. The event falls this year on Nov. 23 at the First Christian Church, 1000 Kentucky St.

“Our only mission is to make sure people have healthy, nutritious hot meals four days a week,” Engstrom said. LINK’s focus on food, that most basic of human needs, is partly what drew Engstrom to the nonprofit organization 23 years ago.

She’s worked as coordinator of the annual LINK Thanksgiving dinner for more than a decade now, fueled by her “passion” for feeding people, she said. The holiday meal brings in a “real mix” of diners, Engstrom said, ranging from folks who rely on LINK for their meals most days to those simply seeking a little fellowship and holiday cheer.

“It’s a very festive day,” Engstrom said. “We have decorations and we have people who push the pie cart around.”

Organizing the dinner is no easy task. Organizers this year are looking for about 100 volunteers to assemble the food, serve it up on-site or deliver it to homes. That’s in addition to the several organizations around town that provide the food.

The scale of this production, as in years past, is simply enormous: 16 gallons of milk, 500 individual-sized milk cartons for home deliveries, 90 pies of varying kinds, 40 9-by-13-inch pans each of stuffing and mashed potatoes, 40 institution-sized cans of green beans, 48 small cans of cranberry sauce, 25 containers of Cool Whip, and 15 industrial-sized cans of sweet potatoes.

Oh, and about 35 turkeys — though LINK contracts out the roasting work to the folks at Maceli’s.

Volunteering at the LINK Thanksgiving dinner, Engstrom said, has “become kind of a Lawrence tradition” over the last 30-plus years, attracting everyone from elementary school students to empty nesters to octogenarians. People are always eager to help, Engstrom said.

“A lot of our volunteers have just made it part of their Thanksgiving routine — we do our family thing, and then we volunteer at LINK,” Engstrom said. “But there are a lot of young families who are trying to introduce their children to the world of volunteerism, too.”

Although part of LINK’s mission is feeding the hungry and vulnerable, no one is turned away from the big Thanksgiving meal.

“We ask no questions,” Engstrom said. “We serve all comers.”

If you’re interested in volunteering, however, Engstrom suggests signing up in advance. It’s difficult to place volunteers who show up the day of, she said.

To volunteer, call Engstrom at 218-9347 (after 5 p.m., please) or email her at

Volunteers are needed at the following times:

• From 2-6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 22, to receive donated food at Maceli’s, 1031 New Hampshire St., and assemble meals for home delivery

• From 10 a.m.-noon Thursday, Nov. 23, to pack home-delivery meals and clean up the prep area, also at Maceli’s

• At 11:15 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 23 at Maceli’s, to deliver meals

• From 12:30-3:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 23 to set up, serve and clean up the Thanksgiving dinner at the LINK meal site