It's the volunteers who make it happen
WILLMAR -- For the fourth year running, Redeemer Lutheran Church in Willmar welcomed all guests to their Community Thanksgiving Dinner Thursday. But besides the quality of food and the number of people enjoying it, the number of volunteers who wo...
WILLMAR -- For the fourth year running, Redeemer Lutheran Church in Willmar welcomed all guests to their Community Thanksgiving Dinner Thursday.
But besides the quality of food and the number of people enjoying it, the number of volunteers who work to make someone else's day special also says something about the event.
"I'm always amazed that people will give up their Thanksgiving to do this and that's really neat to see," said Rev. Steven Bielenberg of Redeemer . "They just feel really strongly about it."
Although most of the volunteers are members of the church, Bielenberg said, the church gets plenty of outside help.
"We do have people from the community call knowing about it and they call and say 'We want to help,'" Bielenberg said. "We've just been overwhelmed with volunteers and it's just great."
One of those volunteers from outside the church was Tom Burton of Willmar. Although he is a member of the Evangelical Free Church in Willmar, Burton was no stranger to helping out on Thanksgiving. Despite Thursday being his first time at Redeemer's dinner, he said he had previously helped Bethel Lutheran Church in Willmar with a similar event.
Burton said he found out about the dinner after reading his church bulletin at Evangelical Free.
"It's more fun, you know the old saying, more blessings to give than receive, right?" Burton said while serving corn to guests and joking with the other volunteers. "This is fun. It's a good service. It pleases the lord. It's just all good.
"I'm just glad the church let's community members in...It's kind of nice that they do that."
As for his own family's plans for this day of thanks, Burton said they would have their own dinner, watch some football and "kind of lay low for the day."
As the mass of adults were preparing and serving the turkey, ham, mashed potatoes and homemade pie from the kitchen of Redeemer's Fellowship Hall, younger volunteers helped by busing tables and getting the plates to a family cleaning the dishes.
Carol Dahlke, a member of Redeemer , was washing dishes with her two grandchildren, Jess Dahlke and Andrew Hoekstra, also members of the church. Carol said the three were volunteering for the dinner for the third year.
"We just like to help out other people in the community," Carol said.
The small dishwashing crew wasn't bombarded with dishes until 30 minutes after the dinner's serving line opened up and spilled outside of the Fellowship Hall entrance.
Carol said the family was looking forward to their own Thanksgiving dinner that evening after the hall's doors closed at 1 p.m. Hoekstra joked they would also plan out their shopping for Black Friday, the busiest holiday shopping day of the season.
Although all these volunteers had their own families and probably other places to be, they all converged into one giant family, preparing the feast for their guests and cleaning up the dishes afterward.
Yet with all these people giving up their holiday for others to enjoy it, Bielenberg said it's their selfless deeds that over that last four years have helped serve more than 250 people each year.
"As we go on, we're finding we're hitting more of the people that we'd like to hit," Bielenberg said. "You know, people just having a hard time making ends meet, single moms and their kids.
Bielenberg recalled an example of such a guest a couple years ago. He said the man came in, filled up his plate, "sat down all by himself and just demolished it in a matter of minutes." He said that was one of the reasons why the church has held the dinner for the last four years.
"It makes you think about what their lives are like every day," Bielenberg said. "You can't imagine that."
With similar sentiment in mind, Bielenberg said the church would continue to hold the dinner for many years, thanks to the support of its volunteers and the donated food from the community.
"As long as there is a need for it, I think it will continue," Bielenberg said. "I think there will always be a need like that in Willmar."