Celebrating Thanksgiving together

About 1,100 people will be served a free meal on Thanksgiving Day. The Dickinson Community Thanksgiving Dinner Committee will put on its annual community dinner at the Dickinson State University student center. The free meal will be served from 1...

Turkey will be featured during the annual Dickinson community Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, Nov. 24. (iStock photo)

About 1,100 people will be served a free meal on Thanksgiving Day.

The Dickinson Community Thanksgiving Dinner Committee will put on its annual community dinner at the Dickinson State University student center. The free meal will be served from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and about 500 meals will be delivered to community members who are not able to attend from 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m.

The committee is aided by the help of nearly 200 volunteers who help with preparation and during the event, said Janet Johanson, a co-chair of the committee. The local high schools make pies, a local daycare makes cookies, the Dickinson State men's basketball team helps prepare meals for delivery and various others help deliver and serve food, she said. There will also be two chefs overseeing the process.

The event caters to those who may not be able to afford a Thanksgiving dinner or those who might not have someone to share the day with.

"People leave with smiles on their faces, and it's just so nice to have that sense of community and also a nice warm meal, and those who like, can take some home and anything that is leftover we donate to Community Action and to domestic violence," said Mary Ann Brauhn, the other co-chair of the committee. "So it's an outpouring, and there's so many people that benefit from this effort."


The meal was started by the late Deacon Dominic Perera in 1984, drawing only a few hundred people the first few years, Brauhn said.

Life lessons

Volunteers may use the event as a way to give back to the community and those less fortunate.

Dr. Gregg Kovacs and his family have made it their tradition to help serve and deliver the meals.

"My family will all be home for thanksgiving, and they reminded me to get in touch with somebody to do it again this year," he said. "We've had a very blessed life-being a family of two physicians, it's helpful for my children to pass something forward to people who may be shut-ins or underprivileged-it's a good lesson to learn."

The DSU's men's basketball team has been helping for years, head coach Justin Wetzel said. His team has to stay in town to prepare for games this weekend, so it gives his players an opportunity to learn something off the court.

"It's a chance to give back to the community, whether it's maybe some less fortunate, or just some people who have certain circumstances that don't allow them to have their own meal at home or don't have the means to have their own meal," he said. "It's a chance to show our young men that this does exist out there ... You've got to serve those that serve you, and our community serves us well, meaning our program. So we've got to serve the community as well."

Reggie Fields Jr., a senior on the team, helped package the food last year. He said he enjoyed spending time with kids in the area noting that he had never seen children who looked up to college athletes, the same way kids in Dickinson do.


"They just look up to you so much, and it was great to see them smile and really enjoy what we were doing, and it's like setting an example for them knowing that we don't just play basketball, we're humans too," Fields said.

This will be junior Myka Brown's third year helping out with his teammates. He said the meal was also nice for the team, some of who missed getting to go home and see their own families over the holiday.

Wetzel said some of his players did come from backgrounds that made them more understanding of the struggles some families in the area are currently facing.

"They come from a lot of areas that experience these very hardships we're talking about," he said. "They've lived it. They understand what it might be like ... their parents living paycheck to paycheck. Our roster is made up of young men who understand and appreciate everything they have."

Some of the young men may come from families where the food just seemed to appear on the table every holiday. If nothing else, Wetzel said he hoped his athletes took a moment to reflect on the time and effort it takes to put together such a meal. Ultimately he hopes they think about the larger implications of the day - giving back to those in need.

"Being a basketball coach, you sometimes get caught up in certain things that aren't nearly as important as what this can provide as a life lesson," he said. "... It's a chance to create hopefully a real-life experience for me as a coach for these young men. It's a chance to just directly show them the impact on person can have, and that's what I take away from it the most."

Recognizing the volunteers

Dickinson High School juniors and seniors will also be making about 20 pumpkin pies in their family and consumer science class this year, said their teacher Kathy Kiedrowski.


Trinity usually also makes pies but was unable to this year with the school's construction, she said.

She noted that, though the students were doing it in class rather than coming in on their own time, that they were still learning an important message.

"It's good for them to give," she said. "They understand that this is for somebody else."

She said she has a whole spectrum of students ranging from those who are just now learning about volunteers who give up so much of their time for the cause to students who have attended the dinner.

Ultimately, she said the volunteers deserved recognition.

"I think that the people that are working so hard behind the scenes ... giving up their Thanksgiving Days," she said. "I mean those are the people that just deserve so much credit. We're giving a couple class periods. All of the volunteers need to be congratulated."

There will be boxes set out during the event for people to donate, though they are under no obligation to, Brauhn said. The donations will be used to fund next year's meal.

She said her favorite part was seeing people work together to put on an event to "share the bounty."

"And then all the people who donate goods and also money and make this happen, they have that joy of seeing the community coming together," she said. "It's selfless, selflessness I think and just the joy of giving. I think that's what fills everybody's heart and keeps us doing this from year to year."

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