People attending this year's Thanksgiving Day community meal provided by The Banquet nonprofit in Bismarck won't have to stand in line, plate in hand as volunteers serve the food.
Instead they will be seated at linen-covered tables decorated with specially designed centerpieces, with volunteers bringing them their food and drinks. A violinist serenading the crowd as they enjoy the traditional holiday meal will add to the restaurant-style atmosphere.
The free community meal will be held this year from 5:30-7 p.m. at the newly constructed Dream Center, at 1805 Park Ave. in southeast Bismarck. In the two previous years the Thanksgiving Day meal was held at Trinity Lutheran Church and sponsored by parishioners at First Presbyterian Church.
“For Thanksgiving, everybody comes together for the fellowship and being thankful that there is a free meal that’s being offered,” said Karla Eisenbiesz, executive director of The Banquet.
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The $3.1 million Dream Center opened in April after a year of construction. It houses warehouse space for the Adopt-a-Block food program, a kitchen and dining area for The Banquet, a food pantry, a chapel, office space for the Dream Center and space for nonprofits to use for things such as health screenings or legal aid, and a conference room that organizations can book.
The Banquet serves evening meals seven days a week year-round to the less-fortunate and anyone looking for a free hot meal and good conversation. Eisenbiesz said the organization served 1,400 meals in October and usually serves anywhere from 200-250 people a day.
Other local groups also are offering holiday community meals. Bismarck Global Neighbors is hosting a Thanksgiving Global Feast at Lord of Life Lutheran Church from 5-7 p.m. Wednesday. The Eagles Club in Mandan will host a free meal in the lower level from noon to 2 p.m. Thursday with a freewill donation benefiting Central Dakota Humane Society.
Eisenbiesz said the meal at the Dream Center will be traditional, with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, fruit salads, rolls, cranberries and pies. Local attorney Randy Bakke donated 20 whole turkeys, and Eisenbiesz ordered another 75 pounds of white turkey meat.
“We’re ready to start cooking,” she said days before the event as the groceries needed for the meal were on the facility’s shelves and in the new walk-in freezer and cooler.
Eisenbiesz is planning for 400 guests, with any leftovers going to other organizations for their daily meals. Twenty-five seasoned volunteers from First Presbyterian Church are expected to serve the meal.
“When (people) come through the line they are very appreciative; it doesn’t matter if it’s Thanksgiving or not,” Eisenbiesz said. “It’s very heartwarming.”
First-year cook Shonny Morsette is excited about the event.
“I know how busy it can get, but because it’s Thanksgiving Day it will be a little bit more of a controlled environment with seating; it’s just going to go very smoothly," she said. "I’m excited to serve the less-fortunate in our community who might not have family. It’s nice to see people come together.”
Jean Pittenger eats at The Banquet nearly every day to help save money on groceries.
“I come here quite a bit,” she said while eating a meal last week. “It helps me save money on food at the house. Right now money is tight.”
She expects to attend this year’s Thanksgiving Day meal at the Dream Center.
“I went last year at the old place,” Pittenger said. “It was really good. I am very grateful that they are having the Thanksgiving meal again this year.”
Even though The Banquet serves meals year-round, the effort it takes to put on the holiday meal is not lost on Eisenbiesz.
"All of the donations and everybody just has that warm fuzzy feeling during the holidays, and people are very appreciative. We are so grateful for the community support that The Banquet has had over the last 17 years and very grateful we have this beautiful facility for the community," she said. "The Banquet is the hub of the Dream Center. Everybody has to eat. So the meals bring people together, and they come in and they feel safe and no judgement. That’s our biggest goal.”