Countdown to Community Thanksgiving
November 19, 2013
If making Thanksgiving Dinner for a houseful of people seems like an accomplishment or even an impossible task, imagine making the dinner for more than 600 people.
The Community Thanksgiving Dinner is, now, a tradition in Havre. With turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, rolls, vegetables, pie and more, including festive decorations, it's a meal fit to fill the holiday urges.
Sponsored by an anonymous donor, the purpose of the meal is to bring the community - "rich, poor, young, old, singles, couples and families" - together. It is paid for in full by an anonymous donor, so even those who cannot afford a large Thanksgiving meal can be a part of this event.
Last year was a pretty typical year for numbers, said organizer Debi Rhines, with 345 people served by home-delivered meals and 296 people, plus any volunteers who wanted to eat there, served on site.
It could be a argued, though, that this one meal serves more people than that because all the leftover food is sent to Feed My Sheep Soup Kitchen to make more meals.
"It's a beautiful thing," said Rhines, who is in her third year as organizer.
Rhines said her father, Terry Schend, and husband, Dave Rhines, had worked at the dinner for nearly two decades, but she had always stayed home to cook their family meal. The first time she volunteered was three years ago when she took over as organizer.
"It was a little daunting," she said, but added that she wasn't just thrown into the deep end without a life-preserver because organizers from all the previous years had kept notes.
When she agreed to be the organizer, she said, she was handed a three-ring binder with "everything" in it.
Everything includes such details as the mission statement; names of past volunteers; the shopping list; instructions and a complete checklist of when duties need to be performed from two months out to the morning of the dinner; and directions for making stuffing for 600 people.
She laughed, even after three years experience, about the enormity of that recipe.
Rhines said that many of the same people return every year, from the two brothers who work as plate scrapers to a woman from Big Sandy who drives to Havre every year and a host of other people, including head chef, Peter Bruni, a retired military cook and large-event chef.
She said she didn't keep track of the number of volunteers her first year, but last year almost 200 people volunteered putting on the meal - some the day before helping with food and table-setting preparations, and some Thanksgiving Day delivering, serving and cleaning up.
"Every day there's a new message from somebody who wants to volunteer," she said, adding that "we can use everybody in some way."
While Rhines is grateful for the volunteers and the chance to be a part of this community gathering, it's a scene from her first year that sticks with her.
"I saw families come in that absolutely needed this meal. And it was huge," she said. "To me, that's way more important than any other gift you can give somebody is something that they truly need because then you know that the gift is just a beautiful thing. I love that."
The Community Thanksgiving Dinner will be 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at St. Jude Parish Center, 440 7th Ave. For home-delivered meals, which are sent out between 8:30 and 9:30 a.m. that day, call the North Central Senior Center at 265-5464.
Anyone who wants to volunteer in any capacity can call Rhines at 265-6900.