You think it’s a job serving Thanksgiving dinner at your house? Try plating it up for 500 guests an hour before noon and delivering takeout boxes to that many other needy folks scattered all over town.
That’s what the Kansas City chapter of the Salvation Army does every year from its home base in midtown. One hundred-forty turkeys, 15 gallons of gravy, mashed potatoes and dressing by the vat.
It still amazes volunteer Carl DiCapo, who’s been working the free community dinner the past 20 years.
“We have mashed potatoes. We have gravy. We have, what, dressing. Gotta have dressing,” the longtime restauranteur said before Thursday’s feast. “The best-looking pie you ever saw. And why not? If you can’t give them the best, don’t give them anything!”
Them, or rather “they,” were waiting outside as DiCapo rattled off the groceries bought and names of some of the corporate benefactors who made those purchases possible.
At the front door, music therapist Maggie Rodgers strapped on her acoustic guitar and called on folks to join in.
“Michael, are you ready to do some singing?” she asked dinner guest Michael Cahill, and together they helped folks pass the time as they waited to enter.
“Oh, it’s a good day for singing a song,” Rodgers crooned. “It’s a good day for moving along...”
Back inside, dozens of volunteers in red aprons bowed their heads as Salvation Army Major Phil Maxwell gave the blessing, praying that all those served that day would leave “a little bit richer, a little bit better.”
Michael Eckert Sr. of Kansas City felt as if he did. A greeter at the Home Depot, Eckert said he hadn’t been to the annual meal for several years.
Instead, he spent Thanksgiving in bed, watching TV.
“I wasn’t in the spirit of getting out,” he said.
But this year, he drove over early, unloaded his wheelchair and was one of the first in line.
“This is fantastic here,” he said later as a volunteer slid a full plate of food before him and sweetened his coffee.
Directing traffic at the door a few steps behind Eckert, former Kansas City Councilman Troy Nash felt the same way, otherwise he wouldn’t keep returning to volunteer.
“Fourteen years,” he said. “It’s a tradition now.”
The Salvation Army dinner is a newer Thanksgiving tradition for John and Jessica Rogers and their 10-year-old son, Jaxon. Last year was the first time the Lenexa family volunteered to deliver meals to those unable to attend the dinner.
They enjoyed helping out so much, Jaxon especially, that they were back in 2016.
“He was so funny,” his mom said. “When I asked him, ‘Are you excited about delivering meals?’ And he said, ‘It’s Thanksgiving — that’s what we do.”
And then they headed out the door, carrying off dinners for four hungry households before sitting down to their own holiday meal.