Putting the “thanks” into Thanksgiving, 100 volunteers will come together to make sure 500 meals are given to others in the Sedalia community on Thanksgiving Day.
Members of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church Parish and other volunteers spend weeks and days before the holiday organizing, getting the word out and cooking for the annual event that began in 1995.
Thanksgiving Day Dinner Coordinator Mary Jo Ballenger said the event began when the late Lelia Boss saw a need in the area in the mid-1990s.
“The lady that started it, had started it as kind of a family thing,” Ballenger said Tuesday. “Then she discovered there was a need in the community. There was some of the elderly and handicapped and home-bound that were not getting anything for Thanksgiving.”
Ballenger has been coordinating the dinner since 2004. Before that, she helped box-up dinners for delivery. When Boss decided to step down as dinner coordinator, Ballenger said the pastor at the time, “Father Tom,” asked her to take over the position.
“When I went to talk to Lelia she had all the main stuff written out that I needed to remember,” she added. “She had it all organized really well, so I just took off from there.”
To make the public aware of the event, weeks before the dinner, she hands out lists to several agencies such as the Sedalia Housing Authority, Liberty and Tambo Apartments, Meals on Wheels and the Senior Center. The agencies have people sign up for the meal delivery and Ballenger picks up the lists a few days before the dinner.
She noted that the dinner has grown over the years. When it began they were serving under 300, and over time they have served as many as 600 people.
This year volunteers will deliver 400 dinners of turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, dressing, vegetables, cranberry sauce, bread and cookies along 26 different routes. Ballenger said another 100 people are expected to come to the parish to eat their Thanksgiving Day meal.
Volunteers make many of the cookies for the meal too.
“The cookies come from all over the place,” Ballenger said. “Some come from the ladies in the parish and there’s a lady in the community by the name of Sandy Anderson, that makes oodles.”
She also noted that Megan and Jorge Guevara are donating 40 dozen cookies.
“They did that last year too,” she said.
All items are paid for by donations such as the 300 pounds of turkey roast. The turkey is being baked at the parish by Marvin Brownfield.
“He’s done this for several years,” Ballenger said. “He has it down pat … the whole thing. He knows just what we need, he knows who needs to do what. I can answer general questions about the kitchen but if you get specific, I say ‘go ask Marvin.’”
The Tuesday afternoon before Thanksgiving, Brownfield begins baking the turkey at the parish, in roasters.
“He will go ahead and cook all of the turkey, no matter what the numbers are,” Ballenger said. “The leftovers will be there for Open Door Café. It’s in our basement temporarily.
“(Wednesday) afternoon the guys will be in there to cut (the turkeys),” she added. “He knows just the size to cut them, to get the pieces that he needs.”
On Thursday, volunteers will begin delivering dinners at 10:30 a.m. and they will serve the eat-in meal at 11:30 a.m. at the church.
Volunteering is important to all those who help with the project.
“There are certain families that come every year,” Ballenger said. “It’s important to them to do this, to be a volunteer. There are some people coming on Thursday, that I’ve never met.”
Helping others is also important to Ballenger.
“It’s just amazing to me,” she said. “This meal always is. I kind of do the framework and it’s like it has a life of its own after that. It just goes. The volunteers are there, if I think I’m going to be low in something it’s taken care of. It’s like the Lord just takes it and runs with it. It’s just always amazing to me. This is just something I’ve enjoyed doing for a long time.”
Ballenger added that meal has been a blessing to the people in community over the years too.
“The people who get the meals, they get so excited,” she said. “They are so thankful. We get thank you notes and some of them pay something even though they don’t have to.”
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or on Twitter @flbemiss.