Laramie Community Thanksgiving Dinner

Volunteer Mel Anderson serves a hot Thanksgiving meal to guests during the 21st annual Laramie Community Thanksgiving Dinner on Thursday at the Eppson Center for Seniors.

The holidays can be lonely for some, and cooking a large meal isn’t always an option, which makes The Laramie Community Thanksgiving Dinner a great option. The free event took place Thursday at the Eppson Center for Seniors and welcomed to all who wanted or needed a hot, Thanksgiving meal and a chance to interact with different people in the community.

Celebrating its 21{sup}st{/sup} year, Janice Sexton, co-chair of the Community Thanksgiving Dinner, said the meal is open to anybody and everybody, including seniors, first responders and families. She added they even contact local motels — especially when it’s snowy — to invite guests with no place else to go.

“I think it’s kind of become a tradition in Laramie,” Sexton said. “We’re finally overcoming the stigma that because it’s at the Eppson Center, you have to be old. We want anyone that doesn’t have a place to go on Thanksgiving, or who doesn’t want to be tied to the kitchen and cooking and dishes.”

Charles Deraedt, a resident who ate at the Community Thanksgiving Dinner, said it was a way for people like him without family in the area to have a “second family.” He added it was a great way to share traditions, stories and more among people of all ages.

“It impacts the community as a whole,” Deraedt said. “The younger generation can see how traditions stay alive, even just listening to the stories of their elders. It’s a great thing.”

Not everyone can leave their homes for Thanksgiving, especially those who have an illness or disability. The Community Thanksgiving Dinner also offered home-delivered meals to residents who requested them. Sexton said they received more than 82 orders for delivered meals this year, and despite being delivered, they still create a sense of community.

“At the Regency Retirement Home, they put their names on a list,” Sexton said. “I think we’re delivering 13 meals there, and they all go into the community room and eat together.”

Volunteers help deliver the meals to people’s homes, as well as serve people in the dining room. Sexton said the volunteer spirit of the event is unique, with people contacting her to get on the list as early as August.

“It used to be a buffet style and now instead of doing that — because you get a lot of people who use a cane, walker or can’t walk — we seat people, and we have volunteers bring them their food,” Sexton said.

Clint Summerfield said he has been volunteering at the event with his wife and two boys for the past five years.

“It’s just something we do on Thanksgiving,” Summerfield said. “I always have the dessert cart, and I get to go around and talk to everybody, which is nice.”

The meal is completely free, and Sexton said making it is truly a community effort. She added there’s enough food donated by various businesses and groups around Laramie to feed an expected 450 people between the dining room, take-out and delivered meals.

“I am just so excited about the donors, the restaurants and people who have come forward,” Sexton said. “The stuffing and the sweet potatoes were donated. We’re not doing any instant potatoes; the mashed potatoes were all donated. As far as food, we buy nothing.”

With tables accommodating anywhere from 2-18 people, Sexton said they try to make it feel like a family meal. She added groups like the Laramie Soup Kitchen will take any leftovers they can to continue feeding people in need.

“It makes everybody smile,” Sexton said. “I think it brings them together. I think people get the opportunity to sit with people they don’t know, so there’s a lot of fellowshipping going on. They don’t have to be alone.”

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