Volunteers help cook, deliver, serve thousands of free Thanksgiving Day meals

More than 1,300 homeless and senior citizens in St. Paul got hot Thanksgiving meals thanks to a small army of volunteers at Union Gospel Mission. Catholic Charities provided nearly 3,000 hot meals and an additional 1,800 frozen ones for residents in its facilities Thursday.
The impact of the current coronavirus pandemic could be felt with an increase in demand yet a decrease in the number of volunteers who could help. But organizers were determined the Thanksgiving Day meals would be served.
“Every Thanksgiving, everyone deserves to be able to celebrate,” said Abigail Reitz, the event and community outreach coordinator for Union Gospel Mission, where the Thanksgiving meals have been a tradition since 1958. “So we do as much as we can to have hot meals for everyone who comes to us.”
A group of volunteers working in shifts of 10 throughout the day at Union Gospel Mission helped serve food for about 200 people who gathered at its campus in St. Paul. Most of the meals were packaged in to-go boxes for senior citizens in 19 different high-rises in St. Paul. Meals included turkey in gravy, sweet potatoes, corn, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.
Volunteers served Thanksgiving dinners at the Union Gospel Mission in St. Paul on Nov. 26, 2020. The holiday meals include turkey in gravy, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, cornbread dressing, corn, wheat rolls, cranberry sauce, pumpkin and cream pies. (Scott Takushi / Pioneer Press)
Union Gospel Mission helps people facing poverty, homelessness and addiction in the Twin Cities. The COVID-19 pandemic, which has been linked to the deaths of about 3,400 and infections of about 290,000 Minnesotans, has also forced hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans to claim unemployment due to the economic hit and ordered restrictions on businesses.
The pandemic has meant Union Gospel Mission has been unable to serve as many people in person, but the need for food remains, said volunteer services manager Josh Windham. At Thursday’s meal, efforts were made to assure diners and volunteers were safe.
“We’ve been doing all we can to maintain social distancing and to provide the proper safety precautions,” Reitz said. “It’s … quite a feat to get this many meals out into the community. But it’s something that we really believe is important to be able to provide that sense of community and family and gathering even though this year might look a little bit different.”
Before the coronavirus, residents of Catholic Charities housing facilities in the Twin Cities could either prepare their own meals or use its community congregate dining options. But health and safety challenges brought on by the pandemic have closed many of those dining options. And “using mass transit to access grocery stores or food shelves also presented risks of exposure to the virus,” said Kathleen Turner, the food service partnership and strategy manager at Catholic Charities.
As a result, the team has expanded their weekly food distributions since the start of the pandemic.
On Thursday, that meant nearly 3,000 hot meals to people in need across the Twin Cities and 1,800 frozen meals to residents in their housing facilities. Each of the 900 residents will receive a total of four meals to enjoy over the holiday weekend.
Among the hot meals was a main dinner of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, salad, fresh bakery dinner rolls and pie served to shelter guests and others in need at the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation St. Paul Opportunity Center dining room.
Volunteers at the Union Gospel Mission in St. Paul load cars with “to go” boxes holding some of the 1,000 meals to be delivered to people in senior high rises on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 26, 2020. (Scott Takushi / Pioneer Press)

For more information on Union Gospel Mission, visit: https://www.ugmtc.org/.
For more information on Catholic Charities, visit: https://www.cctwincities.org/
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