The Edmond Sun

November 20, 2012

Turkey day dinner preparations under way

More than 3,000 expected at UCO

Patty Miller
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — Turkeys were in the ovens by 5 a.m. Monday as volunteers for Edmond’s annual Community Thanksgiving dinner began preparations for the big meal to be served Wednesday.

More than 3,000 people are expected to come for food and fellowship when the University of Central Oklahoma’s Nigh University Center opens its doors from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday.

The public is welcome to come and share in the eight-course meal that will be the product of 600-800 volunteers. Volunteers are still needed from 1 p.m. on to help serve and then help clean up, organizers of the dinner said.

A large portion of the meal is donated, from the turkeys to the slicing of the hams to a refrigerated truck to hold the finished items for the meal to a large moving truck to gather the food and take it to UCO. Desserts, either bought or homemade, are donated, and cash donations are accepted to pick up where gift donations leave off.

Volunteers Mike and Liz Laska have been helping with or in charge of Edmond’s annual Thanksgiving dinner for the past 31 years.

“Organizing the dinner is a God thing,” Liz said. “It is not us.”

Her husband joined in, “It is over our pay grade,” he said laughing.

The dinner started in 1981 when six families new to Edmond and all members of the same church decided to have Thanksgiving dinner together.

“Fifty people showed up for the first dinner,” Liz said.

This year the volunteers who help with the dinner are expecting a crowd of a little more than 3,000 people.

“Last year we served right at 3,000 people and we will have enough this year for that many and more,” Mike said.

“Everyone is welcome to the free dinner,” Liz said, “whether they have a financial need, emotional need or social need.”

Volunteers prepare the food locally in one of four church kitchens including  First Presbyterian Church, St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, New Covenant United Methodist Church and Southern Hills Christian Church.

Although the Laskas depend on God and the host of volunteers to make the dinner happen, they are looking toward the future and a time when they may not be able to do as much as they do now.

“Many of us who have been working on the dinner for 20 or 30 years are aging out, and we are looking for younger people to step up to help,” Mike said.

The Laskas said they welcome younger families and individuals to get involved, including students.

“We have a good number of students who help each year,” Mike said. “St. Monica’s Youth Group has been in charge of peeling the potatoes for a number of years.”

Bishop McGuinness students have stepped up to help slice the turkeys and prepare the side dishes, also.

Bishop McGuinness High School brother and sister, senior Vijay Raj and sophomore Anushka Raj, both attend St. John the Baptist Catholic Church.

“Mom mentioned this to us and we thought it would be a great opportunity,” Vijay said. The students were volunteering Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday by helping in the preparation of the turkeys.

“If the spirit moves you, you will do it,” Liz said.

The Laskas, like most of the volunteers, help with the dinner each year for the joy of serving, Liz said.

“There are so many friends to be made and stories to share,” Mike added.

Many of the stories pull at the heart strings whether it is the story about a gentleman who lost his wife and drove from Norman to share Thanksgiving with people he had never met and when leaving left a generous check, or the story of a man with cancer who each year scraped the plates.

“Even though his family didn’t think he would be strong enough to volunteer, he showed up and said, ‘Give me a chair,’ as he continued the job he had done for years,” Mike said. “That was his last Thanksgiving with us.”

The stories aren’t all sad, though.

Volunteer Bing Martin said, “It’s fun. Look at all the fun we are having with the people around us.”

For those who are unable to leave their homes and join the festivities at UCO, meals will be delivered starting at 11 a.m. To order a meal call 341-3602, ext. 130. Orders will be taken until 10 a.m. Thursday morning.

“Each year we deliver more than 100 meals,” Liz said.

Nothing goes to waste, and any left over food is donated to the Jesus House, Breakfast on Boulevard and Cook’s Night Out.

Left-over family-sized donations are donated to the HOPE Center of Edmond and Samaritan House and larger-sized donations are given to Edmond Mobile Meals.

Among the many donations, Fowler Toyota will be loaning the organization vehicles to deliver the food, U.S. Foods again loaned a refrigerator truck to store the cooked meat and side dishes, an anonymous donor has loaned a moving van for many years to collect the food from the churches and deliver it to the site of the lunch, ham was discounted from Cisco which Homeland cut for free, Citizens Bank of Edmond and Baggerley Funeral Home donated turkeys, Laska said. Local residents and businesses like Matthews Funeral Home also donate dollars, time and items like desserts.

“We’re really grateful for everything and we want to share with anyone and everyone,” Laska said.

To volunteer, call 359-0201. To order a meal call 341-3602, ext. 130.