They’re a humble group, hardworking and dedicated. Monday morning the committee for the annual Thanksgiving Day dinner gathered for their last meeting before Thursday’s event.
It’s clear they enjoy working together; laughs and good-natured comments flew like leaves in a brisk breeze.
You’d have to be a migratory bird heading South not to have heard about the traditional turkey dinner with all the fixings offered at no charge to folks who might not have a place to go, be unable to leave their homes or are just in need of a good meal on Thanksgiving Day.
This is the 23rd year for the turkey dinner, a meal offered from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the St. Francis Borgia Grade School cafeteria. Last year over 400 meals were served — and this year there are over 60 volunteers signed up to help.
“It’s a dream come true,” said committee member Judy Droege, as she answered my question about how the dinner got its start.
Turns out it was an idea that took root in Judy’s head when, for the first time, she and her husband, Butch, faced Thanksgiving without their children. The kids were going to be away, but rather than play, Judy got the wheels turning on a dinner that now operates like a well-oiled machine.
Who could have imagined the event would grow like it has. That first year 17 volunteers served the 13 people who came to the lower level of the Washington City Auditorium for the dinner, Judy said, and it snowed.
“We had so much food left over,” she added with a laugh.
This week it’s likely the committee won’t have to contend with frosty weather. The temperature is supposed to be balmy, and things will be heating up for Denny Holtmeyer and Mary Obenauer, of Droege’s Catering, who prepare all of the food for the dinner, leaving Rose Voss with a truckload of dishes to wash up afterward.
The committee lauded the efforts of these behind-the-scenes folks responsible for making a dinner that all agree is absolutely delicious, turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, green beans — but no corn.
Talk of that vegetable drew a laugh from committee member Tom Dill. He fields calls from those wishing to have a dinner delivered, and from others wanting to volunteer. Sometimes conversations can be funny, a person might call to cancel an earlier reservation because they have an invite to cousin Ethel’s after all, or to urge the committee, quite emphatically, not to serve corn.
It’s clear that lighthearted fun is a byproduct of volunteering, something individuals and whole families, small and large have been doing for years. Committee members Darryl and Karen Engelkemeyer began working the dinner when their sons were 8 and 9.
“They don’t know if I can make a turkey or not,” Karen quipped, adding that the boys-become-men still volunteer, as well as the Engelmeyers’ grandson. Now in their 30s, the Engelkemeyer sons pick up all of the food from Droege’s Catering and deliver it to the grade school.
Muscle, brainpower and oodles of organization are needed to pull off the dinner. The committee tries to carefully gauge the amount of food they will need, but sometimes there are leftovers.
Those yummies are donated to area food pantries. Funds to support the dinner come from various people and organizations — and area schoolchildren love making table centerpieces, as well as volunteering to help too. The parents seem to like using the volunteer opportunity to teach their children about service to others, Dill said.
Offering a delicious Thanksgiving meal is one of the perks of attending the ecumenical event, but there’s another important goal the committee likes to drive home — the dinner offers the golden opportunity to socialize, to be with others, on a day that might otherwise be lonely for some.
“For it is in giving that we receive,” the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi goes.
The annual Thanksgiving dinner offers yet another avenue to do just that.
Committee members for the dinner are Butch and Judy Droege, Gary and Pam Warren, Tom Dill, Darryl and Karen Engelkemeyer, Crystal Johns, Mary Obermark and Nancy Wood. A special nod also to Rita Longsdon and husband Jim, who Judy Droege said “worked with us for 21 years.”