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‘Such a good turnout’: Rotary Club of Dawson County gives away 515 Thanksgiving meals
Dawson County Rotary Club President Sharon Hall hands a meal into a vehicle during the cub's annual Thanksgiving dinner event. - photo by Alexander Popp

In little over two hours on Monday night, the Rotary Club of Dawson County provided Thanksgiving meals to 515 people, breaking all records for the club’s annual event in a marathon session of holiday spirit. 

Cars began lining up for the event around Veteran’s Memorial Park nearly an hour in advance, the drivers patiently waiting their turn to receive a free Thanksgiving meal. 

And as Rotary Club members waved signs reading “The Rotary Club is Thankful For You!”, “We will get through this!”, and shuttled bagged meals to vehicles, club leaders frantically tried to find enough food for all the waiting people. 

They had come prepared to drive the community a free Thanksgiving dinner, according to Rotary Club President Sharon Hall, but an unexpected record turnout of community members ate through more than 300 meals in half an hour. Leaving a long line of cars waiting to receive food, while club members rushed to local restaurants to pick up Thanksgiving sides, Chick-fil-A sandwiches, Little Debbie cakes and whatever else could be bought and served quickly. 

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By 6:30 p.m. food reinforcements arrived and the line of cars began moving again, and club members dished out an additional 200 meals, bringing the night’s total to 515 served. 

Nicole Stewart, a co-chair of the event, said that the night’s high turnout was unexpected, especially when this year’s event was so different from those held in the past. 

“We had to change it this year because of COVID, so that’s why it’s a drive-through this year,” Stewart said. “But this year we didn’t know who was getting the information or how many people would come, but we’re excited it’s such a good turnout!” 

At last year’s event, according to Stewart, the Rotary Club passed out about 350 meals in 2 hours. Making the turnout for 2020 all the more impressive. 

According to Hall, community members were already lining up at the park by 3:30 p.m., even though the event was set to begin at 5. And even with the delays throughout the night, most drivers seemed content to wait for more food to arrive. 

One driver, who was fourth in line when food ran out for the first time, said that one reason the turnout was larger this year may be due to the number of people who have been affected by COVID-19 in the community, many of whom may not be able to cook their own Thanksgiving meal this year. 

“There’s a lot of people quarantining this year, so for a lot of them, this might be their Thanksgiving dinner,” the driver, who wished to remain anonymous, said. “Personally, my wife has COVID so we’re quarantined in the house and she won’t be cooking, so we’re planning on saving this meal.” 

Ezra Chumley, another citizen waiting a little further down the line of cars, said that he’s come out to the past five Rotary Thanksgiving events and wouldn’t be deterred by a wait or a change of format. 

“I think it’s wonderful that they’re still doing it despite COVID,” Chumley said. “I’ve lived here for six years, and I love this county. And a big shout out to the Rotary Club for doing this — this is a great event.”

Stewart said that despite running out of food, the event went even better than she expected. 

“It all went better than I thought, so I can’t complain,” Stewart said. “All the places we called at least made us something, so it was a little like the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, but it turned out really good. Dawson County is awesome!”

Cars lined up around Veterans Memorial Park in Dawson County on Monday afternoon for the Rotary Club of Dawson County's annual Thanksgiving dinner event. - photo by Alexander Popp