For Geoff Pinney and Leslie Youngsteadt, Thanksgiving starts especially early.
Pinney organizes the community Thanksgiving meal delivery at Sturgeon Bay’s Henry S. Baird Masonic Lodge, which feeds about 300 people; and Youngsteadt puts together the Thanksgiving meal at the Sturgeon Bay United Methodist Church, which feeds about 375.
With that many diners, meal preparation is a major to-do, but Pinney and Youngsteadt have plenty of help: Both events are staffed by volunteers and funded by donations.
Though Pinney’s program is organized by the Henry S. Baird Masonic Lodge, not everyone who volunteers their time to prepare and deliver the meals is part of the organization.
“Most of our drivers aren’t even members,” Pinney said. “They just do it out of the kindness of their hearts for the community.”
The same is true for helpers at the Sturgeon Bay United Methodist Church, according to Youngsteadt: 60-80 people volunteer, but not all of them are church members.
“We call it a community Thanksgiving dinner because it takes the whole community to make it happen,” she said – from the men’s club making applesauce, to others baking pies, to volunteers serving food on the day of the event.
United Methodist offers dine-in, takeout and delivery options for its meal, while the program at the Masonic Lodge is delivery only, with volunteers taking meals to people from Southern Door to Washington Island. This year, about 275 people signed up for a meal through Lakeshore CAP and the Aging and Disability Resource Center of Door County (plus a few extra meals for the volunteers).
Making, packaging and delivering hundreds of meals is no easy feat, but with years of practice, Pinney makes it look like one. He spends roughly 100 hours organizing the volunteers, ordering the supplies and making the food, but when it comes time to package the meals on the day of the event, it takes him and an assembly line of 15 or so volunteers only about 90 minutes to get all the meals packaged and out the door.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Pinney said. “The dining room is full of a bunch of bags; then by 2:30, they’re gone. By 3 or 4, the tables are put away, and it looks like nothing happened.”
The Masonic Lodge’s meal was delivered on Nov. 12 this year, with Pinney’s goal being to give people an opportunity to receive multiple free meals throughout the month. At United Methodist, food is served on Thanksgiving Day.
Despite that, Youngsteadt has never had trouble finding volunteers – not even during the past few years in the midst of the pandemic. In 2020, the volunteers made more than 500 meals.
This year, she expects the meal to be a comparatively smaller affair, but with 15 25-pound turkeys, 60 pies and several homemade sides to prepare, “small” might be the wrong word to use.
The goal of the meal program at United Methodist is to bring together community members who don’t have people with whom to share holiday meals, so Youngsteadt can’t wait to be gathering in person this year for the first time since 2019.
“We are so excited to be able to welcome people into our church’s fellowship hall again,” she said. “It makes you so happy to look around and see all these people sitting and talking and enjoying this beautiful meal.”