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Community serving community: Rotary Club of Dawson County serves 600 Thanksgiving meals
Rotary Club of Dawson County volunteers pack Thanksgiving meals with food catered by Tam’s Backstage during the club’s community “drive thru dinner” event on Nov. 22. - photo by Erica Jones

On the evening of Monday Nov. 22, dozens of volunteers from the Rotary Club of Dawson County gathered at Veteran’s Memorial Park to serve Thanksgiving meals to anyone from the community who came to get one. 

Despite the cold weather, those who came to pick up meals were greeted with a wave and a smile from volunteers standing outside, bundled up in coats and jackets and directing cars where to drive. Cars circled the park before pulling up outside the gymnasium, where volunteers were hard at work inside packaging Thanksgiving meals with food from Tam’s Backstage. 

Rotary Club of Dawson County volunteers hand out meals to community members during the club’s community “drive thru dinner” event on Nov. 22. - photo by Erica Jones

Attendees rolled down their windows and were greeted by smiling Rotarians asking how many meals they needed. Their meals were then loaded into their cars and they went on their way, waving and shouting “thank you” and “Happy Thanksgiving”. 

The “drive thru dinner” is the Rotary Club’s annual Thanksgiving event and one of the many ways that the organization aims to serve the community however possible. 

According to Rotary Club President Jo Brewer, this year the organization gave away 600 meals, which were free to any community member who wanted one. 

“Each meal was a pound of food, so we served right at 600 pounds of food or 600 meals,” Brewer said. “We closed up shop a little bit before 7, and it looks like everybody got served — we didn’t run out of food this year.” 

The Rotary Club hosts the community Thanksgiving dinner each year, but last year was the first event done in a drive-through fashion due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s event was also a drive-through dinner, but according to Brewer the organization learned from last year’s dinner to make this one run even more smoothly. 

“We had a really great team of Rotarians, and this year we kind of tweaked our logistics a little bit so it could go smoother and so everything didn’t back up — we learn a little bit each year and kind of applied that to the operations,” Brewer said. “The food line was designed by Tara Hardwick, she really had it down to a fine-tuned operation this year, and we had not only Rotarians but some community member friends of Rotarians too, so it was a big group and we got it all arranged.” 

Jim Eaton is a Rotary Club member who has helped with the Thanksgiving dinner in the past when it was an in-person, sit-down meal. Eaton said that getting to help with the event, regardless of if it’s in person or a drive through, is just as much of a blessing to the volunteers as it is to the people they serve. 

“It’s not about us, it’s about the people we serve; it just fills your heart,” Eaton said. “I just think doing this is really great and I love it. It energizes the club too; everybody jokes with everybody and we all have a good time so it’s pretty cool.” 

Rotary Club of Dawson County volunteers pack Thanksgiving meals with food catered by Tam’s Backstage during the club’s community “drive thru dinner” event on Nov. 22. - photo by Erica Jones

Tracy Verrigni, a Rotary Club member who helped with the Thanksgiving meal for her first time this year, said it was humbling to be a part of such a great community event. 

“It warms your heart to think that this just brings community together and you’re a small part of it but you’re making such a powerful impact,” Verrigni said. “When you see someone like that little girl in the backseat with her big smile or all the people just thanking us for being here, it’s humbling.” 

Verrigni added seeing the community all come together and being surrounded by so many other people sharing the same goal was a blessing to her. 

“In a time where so many people are isolated for many reasons, we can come out as a community and serve the community and engage with people, it’s energizing,” Verrigni said. “It’s just a spirit of good; you’re just surrounded by people and there’s just this energy all around you. Having never done this before, I can’t wait for the next event.” 

According to Brewer, the hope is that by next year’s Thanksgiving meal the Rotary Club will be able to move the event back to an in-person community dinner rather than a drive through.

“I’m hoping next year we’ll be able to bring it back inside, just so we get to visit with the community members a little bit more,” Brewer said. “But it feels really good; I’m very proud that it went off so smoothly.” 

Brewer added events like the Thanksgiving meal exemplify the Rotary Club’s motto of “service above self” and the club’s goal to serve the community. 

“We’re proud to be part of the Dawson County community; we love our community and we love food so this is kind of a great coming together of our two loves,” Brewer said. “We really enjoyed this event and look forward to it every year.”