The Thanksgiving Community Dinner has been at the Moose Lodge in Brainerd since 1979. But as the Moose closed down in September, people were wondering if the dinner would go on.
American Legion No. 255, Fraternal Order of Eagles No. 287, Elks Lodge No. 615 and VFW Post No. 1647 co-hosted the Thanksgiving dinner at the American Legion in Brainerd.
Volunteers Reece Isle and Kessa Eggert took directions from Aubrey Koman with plates of food Thursday at the annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner at the Brainerd American Legion.
Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
About 350 people attended the dinner and there were about 85 volunteers who served the meal, drinks and, lastly, the pumpkin pie.
In addition to the people served, Sharon Osborne, coordinator of the dinner, said an additional 150 meals were delivered to people who were unable to get out of their homes to attend the dinner.
"This dinner is open to anyone in the community," Osborne said. "We have many elderly couples who don't have families around and they'll get together to eat here. There also are people in need who attend.
"Anyone is welcome to come. It's a free meal."
Osborne said Hazel Amic, who lives in Brainerd, started the community dinner more than 30 years ago. Osborne said she got involved in 1997, when Amic had to have surgery and couldn't do it anymore. Osborne hadn't been involved since 2006 but was helping this year because the dinner was moved to the American Legion.
Volunteer Carly Hegstrom served Thanksgiving dinner to Dick and Olive Lafer on Thursday at the American Legion. In the background, Harold Herboldt provided music for the gathering.
Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
Paulette Thoennes of Brainerd has been organizing the volunteers for the dinner for two years.
"We never have problems finding volunteers," Thoennes said. "We have many that come back year after year and we also have a lot of new volunteers, both young and old."
The family of Pam and Dan Levno of Brainerd have been volunteering at the dinner for the last 18 years. Levno's two adult daughters, Aubrey Koman and Danell Eggert, both of Brainerd, were busy setting up the tables for the dinner. The sisters said they've been helping out since they were in high school.
Heather Isle (left) dished the dressing and Alicia Nelson poured the gravy Thursday at the Community Thanksgiving Dinner.
Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
"This is a tradition my mom started," Koman said. "We've always wanted to give back to the community and this is a nice way to do it."
Eggert, who brought her children, Kessa, 5, and Carlie, 3, to help this year for the first time, said the dinner is a good way to teach her children to be thankful for what they have as there are those who are less fortunate and those who are lonely and are just looking for someone to talk to.
Koman said that since family members have volunteered for so many years they have developed relationships with many of those who come to the dinner. Koman said some have been coming for years.
After helping with the community dinner, the Levno family goes to their home for their own Thanksgiving meal.
Betty Johnson of Brainerd has been volunteering at the dinner since 1998, the year her husband passed away.
"I'm always invited out (for the holiday), but I want to help with the dinner," Johnson said.
Johnson was making the cole slaw with volunteer Ione Keinanen of Brainerd. It was Keinanen's first year volunteering for the dinner. Keinanen said she has wanted to volunteer for the dinner for many years but always had to work at her job at McDonalds.
Johnson and Keinanen both said they are alone, another reason they enjoy helping out with the dinner.
"I like that I can go home afterwards and watch football," Johnson said with a laugh. "None of my family likes to watch football, but I do."
Pat Betcher of the Brainerd area has helped cook the turkey, potatoes and gravy for two years. Betcher, who owned the former Kelly's restaurant near Gull Lake, said he did a lot of catering and wanted to use his skills to help with the dinner.
"I've always been involved in charities," Betcher said. "And this is a great organization (American Legion). I also like that I am helping people out during the holidays."
Baxter resident Megan Tschida, 12, helped with the dinner with her family. She said the family has volunteered for three years.
"I like it because it helps the elderly and feeds those in need," Megan said.
Two neighbors from the Brainerd area, who wished to remain anonymous, said they were at the dinner because they were hungry.
"We don't have any money for food," the woman said. "I don't have a job."
Others at the dinner were there because they didn't want to spend the holiday alone.
Ken Breneman of Baxter was going to go to his daughter's house in Isanti for Thanksgiving, but because of the winter storm Wednesday he decided to stay home and go to the community dinner with friends Donna Cobb of Baxter and Dona Mae Weaver of Brainerd. The three are members of the Widowed Friends Club.
Cobb said she is alone and Weaver mentioned the dinner so she thought it would be fun to go. Cobb said that last year, her son was living with her, but he moved to California.
Lois Skillings, who lives in northeast Brainerd, has been to the dinners for "quite a few years."
"It's good food and my relatives live in Wisconsin," Skillings said. "I came here with a girlfriend.
"It's nice that they did it this year after the Moose closed."
Leo Tautges of rural Brainerd has attended the dinner for about six years. Tautges said his wife has Alzheimer's disease and is in a nursing home.
"I don't like to spend the holidays alone," Tautges said. "I like to come here. It's nice to be social. The dinner is always enjoyable."
Gen Olson of Brainerd has been coming to the dinner for 10 years.
"It's wonderful," Olson said. "I have family in the Cities, but I'm too old to be running down there."
JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5851.
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