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Community Thanksgiving Dinner invites the public for meal Thursday

Six hundred rolls. Eight massive cans of cranberries and 24 cans of corn. Kettle after kettle of mashed potatoes. Twenty-eight 18-pound turkeys, stuffed with dressing.

About a hundred volunteers will cook a free Thanksgiving dinner for an anticipated crowd of 600 at the annual Jamestown Community Thanksgiving Dinner this year, set for 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday at Concordia Lutheran Church in Jamestown.

"I've never been in that situation, but can you imagine being in a place where you don't have family? And you can go to the church and be with other people and visit with them, and have a little fellowship with them," said Betty Mahlke of Jamestown, a member of the committee that helps organize the meal each year.

The community dinner is a 21-year tradition in Jamestown started by the late Fritz Buegel, who believed the holiday should be about sharing and coming together as a community on Thanksgiving.

"I feel that the person who founded it had the true meaning of Thanksgiving," said Amy Neustel, one of the co-coordinators of the dinner. "Also, too, I do feel our community is in need of it, and especially this year, due to the flooding and other issues."

Though the community Thanksgiving meal started out as a group of less than 100 people, it has grown. As the number of diners has swelled, so has the number of volunteers.

Sue Corwin, the other co-coordinator, along with a brigade of helpers, started baking rolls and decorating the church Monday. More volunteers will start cooking the turkeys at 8 a.m. on Wednesday. At 7 a.m. on Thursday, people will be at the church early getting everything heated and ready for the crowds.

Volunteers set up, serve the food and clean up afterward. Generally there are so many of them that all the cleaning is complete by 3 p.m.

"Any of the stuff I do, I enjoy doing that," Mahlke said. "It's a good feeling to do things like this for the community. The people that come are just so thankful for the things that we do."

Volunteers also deliver meals during the 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. timeframe -- last year, 337 meals were delivered.

"We do appreciate all the volunteers that help with that. We're thankful for all that people do and donate," Corwin said.

Co-coordinators Corwin and Neustel started working on this year's Thanksgiving dinner immediately following last year's meal.

"It is fun. We kind of enjoy it. We're tired, it's work, but it's work we enjoy doing," Corwin said. "Every year we look forward to it."

More concrete planning for the event started in August, when the committee started meeting again.

"It's truly a community effort," Neustel said. "That day, there's so many people going and coming that help (even) for an hour, and then they leave. And there's so many people (helping) that nobody sees because there's so much work done prior to Thanksgiving Day."

A broad cross-section of the community turns up to eat, too. Elderly people, young people and families all turn up to eat and visit. Local businesses and individuals donate food, paper products and money for the dinner, which costs nothing to those who partake of it.

"It's community giving," Corwin said.

For the most part, the meal itself has stayed the same through the years. This year, pumpkin pie will be served as a dessert rather than apple, and delivered meals will include a pumpkin bar instead.

"We just want people to come and enjoy themselves," Corwin said. "Come to the church, have Thanksgiving dinner."

"Anybody and everybody" is welcome to the meal, Neustel added. "That's what it's meant for."

To request delivery of a meal, call 252-2819 between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Tuesday or Wednesday, or between 9 a.m. and noon Thursday.

Sun reporter Kari Lucin can be reached at 701-952-8453

or by email at