For some, it was the first time, and for others, the community tradition has become a family tradition. Volunteers at the 24th annual Durango Community Thanksgiving Dinner were planning to serve turkey, dressing and pie to more than 800 people this year.
This is my first year not cooking, Deborah Brumfield said. I would have just been home alone. But this is really nice. Its like being with Gods family.
Brumfield was one of many newcomers who seemed surprised at how good the food was.
The dinner also was something new for 10-year-old volunteer Kaitlin Rohr, who was assigned to serve bread. Kaitlin, the daughter of Denise and Michael Rohr, said it might have been her first time volunteering, but it wont be her last.
Shell be in good company on that front, as volunteers tend to keep coming back once theyve tried it.
Its fun, said Cliff Summers, who has been volunteering since about 1993. There are lots of good people here.
Mary Downey probably has been coming to enjoy the food and camaraderie for just as long, but she hasnt kept track.
I wouldnt know how to cook a turkey anymore, she said.
The dinner was the brainchild of the Rev. Myron T. Father Mike Darmour, who died in 2008. Several years before his death, he passed it on to the next generation. Mary Ralph led the organizing committee for the last five years.
This lady here works so hard, said Romelle Malone, who leads the decorating committee, pointing to Ralph. We came to the first meeting, and she had everything laid out.
Ralph said the organization of such a large event depends on years of experience, both hers and other volunteers.
I got such great notes from Father Mike, she said. And there are so many silent helpers who make this happen.
The dinner is put on by Shared Ecumenical Industries, which is made up of St. Columba and Sacred Heart Catholic churches, Congregation Har Shalom, Christ the King Lutheran Church, St. Marks Episcopal Church, First United Methodist Church, The River Church and Mercy Regional Medical Center.
One major change from Darmours time is that the money for this years dinner was raised last year, and service offerings and donations given this year will help pay for next year.
Father Mike used to pray the night before the dinner that enough donations would come in at the dinner to pay for it, Ralph said. Im glad I dont have to worry about that.
She did have a new worry this year. The oven at the fairgrounds Exhibit Hall is so old that they cant get parts for it anymore, so volunteers were ferrying the mashed and sweet potatoes and stuffing from ovens around town to the serving line.
I told Bob (her husband) that we ought to go to church to pray for the Miracle of the Stuffing, Ralph said.
About 180 volunteers do everything from setting up tables and cooking to serving and cleaning up. Gordon Clouser has organized the volunteers and home deliveries for a number of years.
Gordon called me early last week and said he still needed 50 or 60 volunteers, Ralph said. And then he e-mailed me that afternoon and said Never mind. Were good. If you let God know what you need, youll get it.
The last two years has seen a large rise in the number of attendees, in large part because of the recession. Last year, volunteers served about 700 meals, up from 500 in previous years, and they planned to serve 20 percent more this year.
Ralph knew her numbers by heart.
Thirty-two turkeys, 20 pans of stuffing, 12 large pans of mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes, 25 gallons of gravy, she said, ticking them off on her fingers.
The atmosphere is made more festive by live music, provided this year by Christ the Kings Praise Band. Its version of America the Beautiful inspired Malone to add something new to her decorations next year.
We should have little American flags going down the table, she said.
Thats an idea shell bring up at the debriefing meeting held every year after the community dinner, where organizers think of ways to make the dinner next year even better.
One thing that will stay the same is how much fun guests and volunteers alike will have as they come together to celebrate Thanksgiving as a community.
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