St. Mary's Church in Alexandria hosted a free community Thanksgiving dinner in their school's gym — in conjunction with other faith community groups and volunteers — on Thursday, Nov. 25. They've hosted this event for the past 25-plus years, according to one of the dinner's committee members, Betty Roers.

The dinner event wouldn't have been possible without the organization from the church's dinner committee — consisting of 10 church members — the 13 local businesses and community donors who donated food and money, and 140 volunteers that began work the Monday before the dinner. Fifty of them volunteered as drivers to bring home-delivered meals to those who couldn't make it in person.

"The church wants to provide an opportunity to come together, share a meal and celebrate Thanksgiving," said Roers.

With 36 turkey roasts, 140 pies and other Thanksgiving-style foods either purchased by the church or provided by community donors and local vendors, the church served 680 dine-in meals and 390 home-delivered meals. Half of the turkeys were cooked with the help of Luther Crest Bible Camp, and Kevin Richmond took on the chef responsibilities in the St. Mary's kitchen, making sure everyone in the kitchen did their job.

Robert and Marge Hedlund ready some slices of pie at the Community Thanksgiving Dinner in the St. Mary's School gym.
Travis Gulbrandson / Alexandria Echo Press
Robert and Marge Hedlund ready some slices of pie at the Community Thanksgiving Dinner in the St. Mary's School gym. Travis Gulbrandson / Alexandria Echo Press

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Roers said they had more home-delivered meals this year compared to previous years. Normally they do about 275 home meals.

This is the first year since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic that the church could do their dine-in service. Roers said that the church has served more in the past but thinks that more people are staying cautious because of Covid-19.

To combat the spread of Covid-19, the church took precautions by putting more distance between guests in the dining room and encouraging volunteer workers to wear masks.

"We really want this to be all about fellowship, gathering together. We encourage people to come to the church on Thanksgiving, so no one has to celebrate alone," said Roers.

Roers and her husband, Joe, joined the committee in 2017 after the church's pastor announced that if no one volunteers to organize the event, then the church will not be able to continue the tradition.

"My husband and I looked at each other and said, well, we better step forward," she said.

Roers and her husband, along with Bonnie Bromen, were the first three to volunteer. Today the three are joined on the committee by Grace Lambert, Dave Wieneke, Mike Savageau, Mike and Robyn Donnay, Gayle Walz, and Alicia Klimek.

The St. Mary's School gym was packed with diners during the Community Thanksgiving Dinner that took place on Thursday, Nov. 25.
Travis Gulbrandson / Alexandria Echo Press
The St. Mary's School gym was packed with diners during the Community Thanksgiving Dinner that took place on Thursday, Nov. 25. Travis Gulbrandson / Alexandria Echo Press

"We are really proud that it is a community event. It has been a great event to be a part of," said Roers. "Every year, I meet so many nice people, and it's a really neat experience."

Any extra money received from donations is set aside for next year's dinner, with some being donated to the Outreach Food Shelf, along with the extra, unprepared and unopen food items.