By Leah Sander
WARSAW — Instead of merely sitting down to a turkey dinner on Thanksgiving, approximately 50 volunteers made sure others in Kosciusko County could have turkey at their Thanksgiving dinners.
On Thursday, Nov. 25, volunteers handed out more than 650 free meals as part of the annual community Thanksgiving dinner. It’s run via a partnership between Warsaw Elks Lodge No. 802 and American Legion Post 49 of Warsaw.
The dinner, a longtime community staple, wasn’t a traditional one for the second year in a row due to COVID-19. Instead of a sit-down meal, people once again picked up their meals to go at the Legion or had them delivered.
The number of meals given out was slightly down from last year, which organizer Charlie Miller viewed with cautious optimism as he said “the economy’s going south again.”
“It’s nice that we didn’t serve as many,” he said. “That makes me think the need’s not there, so people are doing all right, but it’s nice … to serve the people that did need it.”
Anyone regardless of income was welcome to take a meal with freewill donations being accepted during the event for the Elks’ project helping kids in need for Christmas.
Miller said a few gift cards were also given out to people who drove up Thursday. He said his wife purchases the cards and he gives them out as he sees fit.
Miller has helped with the dinner for 27 years.
“It served a need in the community that’s not addressed,” he said of the meal. “We have a lot of older people. Their kids are grown and have their own families to go to, so it’s kind of silly for them to spend $200 on a meal, have all those leftovers go to waste.”
“I have very wealthy people come through the line and we deliver to (them) and they make big donations … I have people come through and you can tell they’re living in their car and it’s really sad,” he added.
Miller said it’s important for him to help with the dinner as he grew up poor.
“It’s a chore, but it’s a loving chore,” he said.
Fellow volunteer Steve Phipps, who was in charge of cooking the meal, echoed Miller’s passion for helping with the dinner. He’s assisted with the event for at least 20 years.
“It’s just a good thing,” he said.
In addition to the volunteers, the event is put on through private and corporate donations. Miller said Tom Otto of Michigan gives turkeys every year with him being repaid through a financial donation to his church. Another notable donation came in this year from Jean Northenor, who donated $300 for pies.
To give financially for future Thanksgiving dinners, people may contact the Elks at 574-267-7802. They may also help with next year’s dinner by coming to the Legion the day before Thanksgiving.