By Leah Sander
WARSAW — More than 700 free meals were given out in Kosciusko County through this year’s community Thanksgiving event.
And it happened quite quickly.
Charlie Miller, who runs the annual community Thanksgiving meal, said this is the first year he can recall running out of food. In fact, all the food was gone about only one hour into the two-hour event.
The meal is normally a sit-down event at the Center Lake Pavilion but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people had to either pick up their food at American Legion Post 49 in Warsaw or have it delivered.
Miller said the demand was probably linked to the pandemic and that’s why organizers prepared more meals than usual.
“We knew there would be hard times,” he said.
The pandemic also affected the number of people who volunteered. Miller said some of their usual volunteers didn’t participate either because of the general risk of the virus or because they were in quarantine.
Miller praised the efforts of those who did help.
“It was a good community effort for the lack of help we had,” he said. “It was a wonderful effort by these guys.”
Aside from the workers at the American Legion, 11 drivers delivered meals to 108 homes around the county.
He was also grateful for the donations for the dinner. Every year, Tom Otto, of Otto’s Turkey Farm in Middleville, Mich., donates turkeys. This year, he gave about 50, with about 30 being used for the dinner and others being given to Our Father’s House for distribution.
Dan Bauer, a Wawasee Community School Corp. teacher and owner of Dan’s Pies in North Webster, made 100 pies for the event. Other businesses gave money or food.
Miller said he’s glad to be able to help people through the event.
“It’s nice to give back,” he said. “Most all of us grew up poor and we were all in this position when we were kids.”
“And especially after the pandemic, I think this has brought to our attention that all of us are just a few short paychecks from being here for a meal,” added volunteer Tina Phipps of people struggling financially.
Regarding the future of the dinner, Miller said he hopes to pass the main duties of it on to someone else. He noted he and some of the other main volunteers are getting older.
Those interested in volunteering in the future should contact the Elks Lodge No. 802 in Warsaw. People may also contact the lodge if they’re interested in donating for future dinners.