Dinner is served

Community Thanksgiving dinner set for Sunday

PREPARATIONS ARE UNDERWAY for the annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner set for Sunday, Nov. 19 at the Diamond Banquet Hall. Mary Belter with the Wilmington Lions Club and GFWC-IL Coal City Junior Woman’s Club member Renee Super were hard at work this week roasting the turkey. The dinner is open to the public and there is no cost to attend.

    It takes 1,840 pounds of turkey, 450 pounds of mashed potatoes and 24 gallons of gravy to feed the community a Thanksgiving dinner, and that’s not all that goes on the plate.
    Each November a group of civic minded individuals gather to prepare a holiday meal for close to 1,800 people.
    Organizers report it takes roughly 100 hours and 140 hands to get the meal on the table, and that’s just what they have been doing for the past six years.
    Planning for the dinner begins months in advance, and the food prep begins a full week before the first slice of turkey is placed on the plate.
    In order to make sure there is plenty of food for everyone volunteers began roasting turkeys bright and early Sunday morning. The process will continue through the week until all 80 birds are cooked and ready for the Nov. 19 meal.
    In the meantime, crews will also begin to prepare the rest of the menu that includes made-from-scratch sides from dressing and cranberry sauce to green beans and sweet potatoes. And one can’t forget the fresh baked dinner rolls and pies.
    The idea for a community dinner was conceived by an area residents who wanted to treat families who were struggling to a traditional holiday dinner. The individual, who prefers to remain anonymous, rallied friends from a host of local organizations to help. Together they’ve created an event that has provided meals to nearly 6,500 people since the dinner began in 2012.
    Since that first meal, the dinner has grown and it’s now open to the entire community no matter their financial status. There is no cost to attend. Donations are accepted, but not required.
    Last November volunteers served a total of 1,495  dinners, including dine-in and carryouts. An additional 543 meals were delivered to shut-ins, senior citizens, the disabled and first responders.
    “Over the years we have seen an increase in the people who participate. Every year its bigger and bigger and there is always plenty for everyone,” said Elsie DeWald, a long-time community dinner volunteer and member of the Coal City Lions Club.
    The dinner would not be possible without the help of volunteers and supporters from area businesses, organizations and individuals who sponsor the event.
    The Wilmington and Coal City Lions Clubs are two of the main sponsors, having  joined forces with the event’s founder.
    Additional sponsors include Diamond Banquet Hall, GFWC-IL Coal City Junior Woman’s Club, Sons of American Legion, St. Juvin VFW Post 1336, Coal City United Methodist Church, Cub Scout Pack and Boy Scout Troop 466 of Coal City, Wilmington Troop 400,
American Legion Riders, D’Orazio Ford, Wilmington VFW, Free Press Newspapers, Kaluzny Brothers, and Exelon Generation Braidwood Generating Station.
    Also, Iron Skillet, Gippers II, Whistle Stop Cafe, Hayden’s Crossing, LaPiazza, Big Fish Bar and Grill, Rachetti’s Pizzeria and Cafe, and Michelle’s.
    The dinner is prepared and served at the Diamond Banquet Hall, 55 S. Daley St., Diamond. Doors open to the public at 1 p.m. and remain open until 4 p.m.
    For the record, volunteer cooks will also prepare 500 pounds of sweet potatoes, 450 pounds of green beans, 2,196 rolls, 252 pumpkin pies, as well as sweet potato and pecan pies, a dozen each.
    Additionally, it takes 120 gallons of broth, 96 pounds of fresh cranberries, 120 pounds of sausage, 55 pounds of dried cranberries, 77 pounds of butter and a host of other ingredients to complete the meal.
    “I can’t stress enough that the dinner is open to everyone. We welcome everyone who is interested in coming out for a delicious meal,” DeWald said.