It was snowing out, but people were coming in at a good clip Thursday, as Havre celebrated Thanksgiving with its special community dinner.
More than 76 people were volunteering at the annual event. Paid for by an anonymous donor, the dinner has become a Havre tradition. Businesses contribute food and supplies.
People from all walks of life come to take part in fun and food.
Folks from all walks of life come to volunteer, as well.
Some, like Lolly Evans, have been doing this for years.
“I plan my Thanksgiving around this,” Evans said. “This is my 12th year.”
People on the serving line said they take part because they enjoy the community service. But it was clear they also enjoy the laughter and camaraderie.
“I get my whole family involved,” Evans said as she dished out dressing to people as they passed through the serving line. “Even my grandchildren are here.”
A relative newcomer, Sandy McDonald said she enjoyed the community service. That’s why she‘s been doing the work for six years.
“I like to give back to the community,” she said. “And I have a lot of friends here.”
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Passing out carrots at the relish table was Evan Johnson.
“I just came to Havre two weeks ago,” said Johnson, an Americorps volunteer from Portland, Ore.
“I could go on a train for 16 hours and be home with my family, or I could walk for five minutes and be here,” he said.
His friend Jim Lyons, who has taken him fishing and given him the tour of the Bear Paw Mountains, told him about the event and was on hand to help out at the relish table.
There was no age limit to volunteers.
As people finished their meal, they were offered a piece of pumpkin pie by two youngsters. Jessa Chvilicek, 10, and Ty Hewitt pushed the pie on a cart because “we like to serve people … and because it’s fun,” said Jessa.
“Same here,” said Ty.
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Peter Bruni and Art Musson were dumping pounds of mashed potatoes into containers so the servers could dish them out.
Bruni is in charge of kitchen operations. He’s had experience at it.
Retired from the Air force, he was in charge of feeding crowds as big as 1,650 people, he said. Then, he was a cook for large restaurants.
“Under those circumstances, you learn to get organized,” he said, laughing.
So it was natural, he said, that he would volunteer for such a project.
Musson said he enjoys giving back to Havre.
“I’m single,” he said. “So for me this is a two-fer. I get out and have fun on Thanksgiving."
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Those dining on the turkey enjoyed the service.
“I come every year for the great food and to meet friends,” said Gene Dobrenz of Havre.
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Three youngsters who arrived with their parents for the meal got lots of attention.
Kamea Black Elk, 3, Joelle Black Elk, 2, and Sioux Black Hawk, 4 months, won the hearts of the serving staff.
The turkey and dressing was appealing to the youngsters, as their parents, Katrinia Longknife and father Joel Black Elk, and Aunt Cara Longknife, sat them down and got them ready to eat.
But when servers came by with the pumpkin pie — that got their attention.
“We wanted to bring the girls out to try something different,” said Katrina Longknife. “They like doing new things and meeting new people. They are real busybodies.”
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Things went smoothly throughout the day, said Debi Rhines, who for the second year is chairing the event.
The dinner is the end result of a lot of work by volunteers, she said.
Seventy-six people signed up to be volunteers on Thursday, she said. She suspects others showed up and started working without signing up.
A record 345 people got meals delivered to their home before the dining hall opened at 11 a.m., she said.
Wednesday night, 40 people came to help set things up and start preparing the food, she said.