Thanksgiving feasts on tap in Polson and Ronan
Line of cars stretches down Main Street in 2022 as people line up at the Elks Lodge in Polson to collect free, pre-ordered Thanksgiving dinners. (Kristi Niemeyer/Leader)
Easton Helmer was responsible for spooning out cranberry sauce at the Ronan Community Center Thursday. Volunteers served an estimated 250 dinners Thanksgiving Day. (Kristi Niemeyer/Lake County Leader)
Reporter | November 16, 2023 12:00 AM
Armies of volunteers are assembling free Thanksgiving feasts in Polson and Ronan. Volunteers and donations help fuel these annual undertakings.
Polson offers drive-by meals
Preparations are well underway for the free Polson Community Thanksgiving Dinner, served 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 23.
All dinners must be preordered and may be picked up at the Mission Valley Elks Lodge at 512 Main Street in Polson or can be delivered according to coordinator Tracy Plaiss. To order, call the turkey hotline at 406-499-9529.
“You can’t call too early,” Plaiss said. She and her crew are still ordering, prepping, and waiting for all the food to arrive.
People picking up their Thanksgiving feast should get in line on Main Street and use the parking spaces in front of the Elks Lodge as a driving lane.
Last year, 1,733 festive Thanksgiving meals were served, so organizers are planning for 2,000 dinners this year. That’s 56 turkeys, 500 pounds of potatoes, gallons of gravy, and a platoon of pies.
The Polson Community Thanksgiving Dinner was born at the Senior Citizen’s Center when some seniors’ families couldn’t make it for Thanksgiving so the center’s cook said she’d make dinner. She cooked one turkey with all the trimmings for nine people.
The numbers of folks served kept climbing. In 2020 when COVID hit, the Polson Senior Citizen’s board opted to step away from the holiday dinner.
Plaiss, who’s been coordinating the event for 19 years, and Jo Durand, who’s volunteered each year, got together on Nov. 1, 2020, and agreed to keep the dinner alive. They lobbied the Elks Lodge board to use the building and sponsor the Thanksgiving feast, and the drive-in dinner was concocted.
Although all the food used to be made and donated by community members, now, due to health department regulations, everything is scratch-made in either the Elk’s kitchen or the Polson Middle School kitchen, Plaiss said.
On the menu is roasted turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, homemade dressing, three salads, cranberry sauce, and pie.
It takes an army of volunteers to make the dinner happen, so if people would like to help, Plaiss said they can leave a message on the turkey hotline, and she will get back to them as the event gets closer, and she knows where she needs extra hands.
As always the dinner is free, but donations are gladly accepted. Folks can drop off a check made out to Mission Valley Elks Lodge if they can contribute.
But mostly, Plaiss said, “What we want to do every year is generously feed anyone who would enjoy it. Let’s take one day out of the year and be thankful for what we have.”
Ronan group steps up to keep Thanksgiving dinner alive
On Thanksgiving morning, the delicious scent of roasting turkey, with a few notes of sage and onion from the dressing, lets folks know Thanksgiving dinner is being prepared in the Ronan Community Center. The free community dinner is served 11 a.m.-2 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.
This year Brandy Chisholm will be coordinating the event.
Community members contribute pies and dinner rolls, and the turkeys are cooked in the Community Center and by volunteers all over Ronan.
They’re cooking 22 turkeys, Chisholm said, to feed between 200 and 250 hungry folks.
The dinner is being handled by a community group this year because traditional sponsors – the Ronan Chamber of Commerce and Tribal Waves – opted out of hosting the Thanksgiving feast due to other commitments.
Chisholm has managed the community dinner before and wanted to make sure it continued so she volunteered as turkey boss one more time. She recruited bankers Brennin Grainey and Jamie Buhr – community “super troopers” – to help and the trio are strong-arming friends to also volunteer.
The Ronan tradition provides a Thanksgiving meal to those who might not be able to afford the food, might be alone, or just aren’t up to cooking.
Call Chisholm at 406-250-8808 to donate food or cash, volunteer to help with the community dinner, or even know a group who might want to take over the event. What she really needs is a clean-up crew, she said.