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A warm meal for everyone

Staff photo by Clay Schuldt Whether it was a party of 15 or a party of one, there was a seat and warm meal ready at the New Ulm Community Friends Thanksgiving Dinner.

NEW ULM — Whether it was a party of 15 or a party of one, there was a seat and warm meal ready at the New Ulm Community Friends Thanksgiving Dinner.

The dinner is hosted at St. Mary’s Church and is promoted as a free homemade Thanksgiving meal for those who do not want to cook or be alone on the holiday.

The dinner was first organized by Jim Thomas and friends after a Thanksgiving snowstorm stranded travelers in New Ulm and prevented others from traveling to family dinners. The impromptu dinner proved popular and became an annual tradition for the last 32 years.

Co-chair for the community meal Les Schulz said just under 1,000 meals are served every year. The meals are divided between dining in and take-out. Roughly 700 people dined in at St. Mary’s with around 150 take-out meals.

Schultz said take-outs were down from last year. Most people decided to dine in as a group this year.

Board member Lynn Rowley said the organizers encouraged the community to dine in this year. This year the largest family to dine in had 15 members, but the largest family to ever attend the dinner had 25.

This year the Community Dinner had 1,000 lbs. of turkey, 420 lbs. of potatoes, 260 lbs. of squash, 20 quarts of whipping cream, four tubs of coffee and 24 gallons of milk. The total amount of stuffing served is unknown, but it was well received.

Schultz said the cooks ran out of squash first. By the end of the meal, they were low on potatoes and gravy, which is good because they tried to avoid leftovers.

This annual community dinner is made possible by hundreds of volunteers. This year 230 volunteers helped with the meal. Many of the volunteers were returning from past years.

“Volunteers are what makes it happen for sure,” Schultz said.

Rowley has been volunteering for six years. She said the best part of volunteering is the camaraderie.

“We see the same people each year,” she said.

The veteran volunteers were able to show the younger volunteers how it was done to keep the tradition going.

Don Brand is one of the longest-serving volunteers. He has washed dishes for 25 years, but he is passing the knowledge on to others. Susie Hoban was volunteering in the dish room for her fourth year. She said Brand taught her everything she knows about dishwashing.

All the food prepared for the meal was homemade and purchased locally. The meal was free to the public but free-will donations are accepted to cover the cost of next year’s meal.

Schultz said the group usually receives enough donations to continue the meal next year. This year they received a $250 donation from 3M employees.

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