Thanksgiving dinner is a chance to give back

What better way to give thanks for all the blessings we receive than by giving to those less fortunate?

That’s the idea behind the annual free community Thanksgiving day meal at the Newman Center at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.

The meal has been a turkey day tradition for almost half a century.

Parishioners from the Carbondale area donate loaves of bread, canned pumpkin, cranberry sauce, crushed pineapple, apples, oranges, vegetable oil, chocolate chips, pecans, walnuts, store-bought pies and other baking supplies. Volunteers then spend up to four days preparing, gathering and organizing the donated items. Preparation work and baking of the pumpkin and pecan pies begins on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Wednesday is dressing day when 18 large pans are filled.

Turkeys are donated and lovingly prepared by members of Knights of Columbus councils in Breese, Aviston, Bartelso, Albers, Trenton, New Baden, Okawville and Pinckneyville. One year, the Knights cooked and served 102 of the 20-pound birds. This year, they expect to prepare about 80.

“I think the world of this project,” said Mike Nettemeier of the Breese Knights of Columbus. “That’s why we’ve kept it going these past 35 years.”

Tim Taylor, director of the Newman Center, says he expects about 800 people to show up at the center for a meal. About 50 homeless or at-risk local residents show up for the meal every year. They will be served by about 50 volunteers who cook, serve and clean up after the dinner.

The Thanksgiving meal will be served from noon to 2 p.m. Thursday, but they also deliver meals to those unable to leave their homes. Leftovers will be taken to local food pantries.

Still plenty of time to spend with family and watch some football.