Annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner feeds hundreds on holiday

photo by: Peter Hancock

From left, Judith Moore, her daughter Eve Lane, and Eric Marquis enjoy a traditional meal at the annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner at LINK, the Lawrence Interdenominational Nutrition Kitchen, on Thursday, Nov. 22, 2018.

For many people, Thanksgiving was a day to spend at home or elsewhere with friends and family; to enjoy a traditional feast and give thanks for the blessings in their lives.

But for hundreds of others in the Lawrence community who don’t have family nearby, who couldn’t get out of their homes to visit others or who simply wanted to volunteer their time helping others, the annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner offered an alternative.

For more than 30 years, churches, individuals and other groups have come together to prepare meals for those who otherwise wouldn’t have one.

While an estimated 200 people came to dinner at the Lawrence Interdenominational Nutrition Kitchen, or LINK, located at the First Christian Church at 10th and Kentucky streets, an estimated 500 to 600 more had hot meals delivered directly to their homes.

“It’s community-building. It’s taking care of our own, because we all need help at some time in our lives,” said Steve Maceli, owner of Maceli’s Banquet Hall and Catering, 1031 Vermont St., where all of the home-delivered meals were prepared.

photo by: Peter Hancock

Steve Maceli, right, directs volunteers preparing Thanksgiving meals for home delivery to people who otherwise wouldn’t have a holiday dinner on Thursday, Nov. 22, 2018.

“And these people are willing to donate their time,” he said, pointing to the scores of volunteers who were dishing up food and packaging up meals to go. “There’s a hidden population that we don’t know about that needs help, and it’s more evident at the holidays that they need help.”

The massive Thanksgiving Day operation began around 10 a.m. when volunteers showed up at Maceli’s to be part of what looked like an assembly-line production system, dishing up portions of turkey, gravy, dressing, mashed potatoes and green beans and putting them into individual Styrofoam meal containers, along with separate containers for dessert pies and cartons of milk.

photo by: Peter Hancock

Joanne Feist, left, and Maggi Kennedy load up a vehicle with boxed Thanksgiving meals for delivery for people who couldn’t make it to the annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner on Thursday, Nov. 22, 2018.

From there, other teams of volunteers loaded sacks of meals into their vehicles and spread out across town, taking them right to the doors of people who had requested them.

Then around noon, a few blocks away, the LINK doors opened and even more people filed in for meals that were served up buffet-style in the large dining hall.

photo by: Peter Hancock

Ariele Erwine, right, and Ethan Fowler deliver Thanksgiving meals in east Lawrence to Keri Santino’s family on Thursday, Nov. 22, 2018, as part of the annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner.

But that was only what happened Thanksgiving Day.

Wendi Meisenheimer, LINK board president, said a lot more goes into the project than that.

“It takes about two months of preparation because everything is donated,” she said in an interview while checking in on the serving lines. “All of the pies, the stuffing, the churches and individuals who volunteer. We call people and say, ‘Are you guys good for the 20 pies?’ or whatever it is that they typically brought.”

For people such as Eve Lane, who came back to Lawrence from New York to spend the holiday with her mother, Judith Moore, the community dinner was a perfect solution.

“I love it,” she said while eating her meal. “My mom lives in Lawrence alone, so whenever we come to town, we don’t have the facilities to make a meal, so this is perfect for that. And she sees a lot of her friends.”

Meanwhile, volunteers who made the whole event possible said it was equally rewarding for them.

“It’s very rewarding for me and my family,” said Pat Deaver, one of the lead volunteers. “I’m teaching my children, hopefully, how to give back. I work in the health care industry, so some of the people we’re sending this food to are people that I know or patients of mine.”

photo by: Peter Hancock

Pat Deaver, left, and Julie Andrews help organize home deliveries of Thanksgiving meals on Thursday, Nov. 22, 2018, as part of Lawrence’s annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner.

photo by: Peter Hancock

Julia Bourquin lines up sacks of Thanksgiving meals to be delivered to people throughout the community on Thursday, Nov. 22, 2018, as part of Lawrence’s annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner project

photo by: Peter Hancock

Nikki Potter, left, and Whitney Fox serve up turkey and gravy for Thanksgiving meals being delivered to those who couldn’t make it to the annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner on Thursday, Nov. 22, 2018.

photo by: Peter Hancock

Tracy Davis, left, and her daughterr Alyssa Davis prepare boxed meals for home deliveries as part of Lawrence’s annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner on Thursday, Nov. 22, 2018.


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