Organizers prepare for Community Thanksgiving Dinner

By: 
Philip A. Janquart
 The annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner is only a couple weeks away and organizers are working diligently to prepare for hundreds of hungry guests looking for a home-cooked meal.
 Thanksgiving Day is Thursday, Nov. 23, with turkey and all of the fixings served free of charge between 12 and 3 p.m. at the Weiser Activity Center for Seniors, located at 115 E. Main St. in Weiser.
 “We have about 200 people that come in during the three hours we are open and that doesn’t count the 150 or so deliveries,” said co-organizer Toby Clary whose family became successors to Evelyn Stover and Evelyn Drumheller who retired 17 years ago.
 “My wife Dana had volunteered when she was in high school and when we moved back to Weiser 20 years ago, we started volunteering,” Toby explained. “The two gals that were running it at the time had been doing it for years and were looking to hand it off to someone. Dana and I said, ‘We can totally do it,’ and that was 17 years ago now.”
 In that time, the Clarys, whose three children also volunteer, have mastered what could easily be a chaotic organizational process, turning the event into a well-oiled, efficient machine.
 “Dana has this down to a science,” Toby said. “We’ve been doing this for so long, we have learned that it has to be broken down into segments: we know there has to be a potato peeling station, a station for the hard-boiled eggs, for people cutting meat, processing the stuffing, etc.
 “We know that we need five this time, and we just kind of fill that out so we don’t have a bunch of volunteers standing around waiting for something to do.”
 In all, Toby said it takes roughly 30 volunteers carrying out specific tasks to feed everyone and to deliver meals.
 “They can call or text me,” he said of those wishing to place an order. “We ask for a name, address, and how many meals they want, and there are no questions asked. We don’t care if they are cooking Thanksgiving dinner themselves and just want a pre-meal or something like that.”
 The Clarys, however, encourage people to call in advance so they have time to plan and prepare. Community members can also request meals to go, picking them up at the senior center themselves.
 “Ideally, we would like to be notified at least the day before the dinner,” Toby said. “But, if people call the day of, we aren’t going to turn them away.”
 Toby said his crew of volunteers prepare between 15 and 20 turkeys every year, using roaster and convection ovens at the senior center. Although the dinner is geared toward those in need, the event is open to all, making it a true community meal.
 “We want to make sure that anyone that does not have the opportunity to enjoy a home-cooked Thanksgiving meal gets one, so we really try to aim it towards those who don’t have, but we also have people who just don’t want to cook this year; they have the means and everything, but they want someone else to do it, so we don’t ask questions; it’s for everybody and anybody, and we have more than enough food to feed all-comers.”
 The Community Thanksgiving Dinner runs solely on donations. There is a box near the food line during the event where people can submit a donation if they so choose. Those wishing to donate can also call Toby personally.
 “All of the money that was donated last year is what allowed us to go out and do the shopping for this year,” Toby noted. “One of the cool things, too, is that you can also donate desserts; instead of buying a bunch of store-bought desserts, we have people who make homemade pies, cookies, and cakes, so if anyone wants to donate desserts or frozen turkeys, we welcome that as well.”
 Those wishing to donate a turkey can either call Toby to make arrangements or drop it off at the senior center where it will be stored in the facility’s cooler and held until the event.
 For more information or to place an order, call Toby Clary at (208) 521-8138.

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