NEW ULM - The Community Friends meal has helped to bring the community of New Ulm together to share and celebrate the holiday of Thanksgiving for more than two decades.
The meal began with a group of friends, according to Community Friends Chairman Jim Thomas.
Thomas along with his family, Bill Koeckeritz and his family, and some friends they had in common who were visiting from North Dakota - a total of 14 people - celebrated the very first Thanksgiving meal together after their Dakotan friends were "snowed-in" in New Ulm.
Staff photo by Serra Muscatello
Volunteers at the Community Friends meal are pictured here helping to serve people a Thanksgiving meal on Thursday. Approximately 900-950 people at a Thanksgiving meal sponsored by The Community Friends. This communit meal has been ongoing for more than two decades now. It began with a group of friends who celebrated a Thanksgiving together after a few of them were snowed-in New Ulm and could not return to North Dakota.
"When I was in the service, I was away from home for the holidays... I know there are people in our community who are alone - that was one of the initial reasons for starting it," said Thomas. "You could be the richest person in town and still be alone during the holidays."
Koeckeritz recalled that the next year after that first meal with friends, a notice was put in the paper inviting people from the community to come to the meal. There were around 150 to 200 people who attended it, Koeckeritz said.
"There're different reasons people come down here (for the meal)," said long-time volunteer Phyllis Postel of New Ulm.
Postel said she has been volunteering at the meal ever since it started more than 20 years ago.
"This was my thing to do. It's a good thing to do. You feel good when you're done - although you're exhausted, everyone working together, it goes," said Postel.
The Community Friends Thanksgiving meal has grown through the years.
"I can't thank the volunteers enough," said Thomas. "It's come a long ways."
The meal has always been served in the basement of St. Mary's Catholic Church in New Ulm, but it is not a church-affiliated event. This meal is intended to be for anyone in the community who wants to share a Thanksgiving meal, according to Thomas.
Last year the Community Friends meal served about 800 people.
This year, the organizers estimated about 900-950 people were served a Thanksgiving meal. Of the total amount, there were about 145 take-out meals and 145 deliveries made to homes.
New Ulmer Anne Koop said she has been attending this meal for many years.
"I've been going every year. I know most of the people," said Koop.
There were 35 volunteers who helped with food preparation on Wednesday night and another 100 people helped on Thanksgiving Day.
"Without the volunteers it would never happen. This is a community coming together every year to celebrate," said Thomas. "A lot of people here now feel this is how they want to celebrate Thanksgiving."
Ever since the meal began it has been self-supporting, Koeckeritz said.
"We've never lacked the money to have it the next year," said Koeckeritz.
This year volunteers prepared and served 800 pounds of turkey (the equivalent of 32 turkeys), 120 pounds of cabbage, 55 pounds of carrots, seven cases of corn, 55 bags of cranberries, 65 pounds of onions, 325 pounds of potatoes, 90 bags of bread stuffing, 300 pounds of squash, 100 pounds of butter, 60 pounds of sugar, 70 dozen buns and 122 pumpkin pies. A local man donated all of the cabbage and squash, said Thomas.
Koeckeritz said he arrived at 4:30 a.m. Thursday morning to help out with the meal.
"It's just as much fun for the people who work it," said Koeckeritz.
"Giving back in some small way and showing concern for people is something we all have to do to make a better place for all of us to live," said Koeckeritz.