Thursday, hundreds of people from all walks of life poured into The Salvation Army's gym to for Thanksgiving dinner.
But Maj. John McCarty, with The Salvation Army, says the reason isn't as obvious as it might seem at first.
"It's the fellowship as much as the food itself," he says.
T-R PHOTO BY DAVID ALEXANDER
Volunteer Angie Armstrong, of Omaha, hands a guest a plate of food Thursday morning at The Salvation Army’s Thanksgiving dinner. Nearly 300 guests turned out to the dinner.
T-R PHOTO BY DAVID ALEXANDER
Volunteer Donna Varnum, of State Center, waits for guests to approach the desert table Thursday afternoon at The Salvation Army’s annual Thanksgiving dinner. Marshalltown High School students baked 50 pumpkin pies for the dinner.
Each year, The Salvation Army hosts the community dinner. However, McCarty says in recent years the non-profit has seen an increase of the people who turn out, not because they are needy, but because they enjoy the ambiance.
Inside the gym, a coalition of volunteers stand in a conga line, bowls of holiday treats before them, their large plastic spoons poised to serve. As guests file through, they shovel salads of all varieties and rolls onto their plates with a smile.
DJs Gene and Bonnie Kunch fill the space with vinyl classics such as Marty Robbins 1957 hit "A White Sport Coat."
Another handful of volunteers will add to the 54 already here to help clean up once 2 p.m. comes and the dinner is officially over.
Just after noon, a volunteer asks McCarty if things are dying down.
"This is the Battle of the Bulge," he tells her jokingly.
Fareway, Hy-Vee, Evening Lion's Club, Walmart, McDonald's and the Senior Citizens Center provided the food - 30 turkeys, more than 100 pounds of potatoes, 15 one-gallon cans of green beans and more. Marshalltown High School students baked 50 pumpkin pies.
Child volunteers from ages 6 to 10 push desert carts up and down the aisles of long folding tables.
Linn Ferguson and Lori Brown sit with Don Ferguson - Linn's son and Lori's friend. Don is in town from Cedar Rapids to see his mother. Lori's family is in Texas. Today is Don's 49th birthday - the anniversary of the day President Kennedy was shot. Despite the adorableness of the cart pushers, both the women decline deserts.
"The cherry looks good though," Linn says.
"I know," Lori replies. "I am trying to be good."
Don chimes in.
"Just go for brisk walk later," he tells Lori. "It will be fine."
The Salvation Army delivered 115 meals to those unable leave their homes, up from last year's 80 carry outs.
Inside Dora's Kitchen, volunteers sweat over massive pots of steaming turkey, gravy and other hot fixings. One man dashes up, telling the volunteer, Angie Armstrong, of Omaha, he only wants turkey and potatoes.
"No onions," he says. "I'm allergic to onions."
More people line up.
"Do you like sweet potatoes?" Angie asks each person who approaches the counter.
She utters the phrase more than a dozen times in a minute.
Just outside the kitchen, Angie's daughter Ashlie, 15, acts as a gatekeeper. She scratches tallies in a notebook, tracking how many people have come to the dining hall. In three hours, she scribbles 292 tallies.
Down the hall, in another kitchen, more volunteers package the dinners set to be delivered to those who are house bound.
Many people give generously just to show how much they appreciate the services The Salvation Army provides, McCarty says. Meals on Wheels and the Senior Citizen Center are closed on Thanksgiving.
Last year, a man to whom volunteers delivered a meal gave $200, and the Red Kettle had more than $500 in it, McCarty says.
Keith Lambersten, at-risk youth director, says an increasing amount of elderly people come out to the dinner. Each year, he says it seems like more families volunteer too.
"It's a place to come and not be alone," he says.
During the holidays, McCarty said there is ebb and flow to The Salvation Army's efforts. On Monday, just four days after its Thanksgiving dinner, The Salvation Army will already begin accepting applications for its Christmas assistance program.