For around 25 years, Emmette J. Shields Post 55 in Hannibal, Mo., has put on a community Thanksgiving dinner that now includes delivering meals and providing carryout services. And for 15 years, current Post Commander Tammy Harr has been a part of the annual tradition.
It makes for a long day – and long week – leading up to the meal, which this year provided 450 carryout and delivery dinners and approximately 150 sit-down dinners. But Harr said the dinner has become a part of what Post 55 is.
“It’s quite a source of pride for us,” Harr said. “We’ve done this for so long that I just don’t know anything different.”
Most of the money and food items for the meal are provided through Post 55 Legion family member donations. “A lot of Legion members donate turkeys. A certain gentleman donates the money for noodles every year,” Harr said. “It’s been a tradition that they donate something for years, and they continue to do that. We have a lot of internal support. We really haven’t had to go out and solicit money.”
Surprisingly, planning for the meal doesn’t really begin until the end of October. “We’ve been doing it long enough that we have notes from previous years (and) shopping lists from previous years,” Harr said. “The same gentleman has cooked for the last 20 years. His son-in-law does it now. I’ve been doing it about 15 years.
“It sounds like a lot. It’s just a matter of coming in … and getting to work.”
Volunteers are not hard to come by. “Every year we have quite a few (volunteers),” Harr said. “We actually had some in from St. Louis this year. We work with a core group of probably 15-20, and that expands out. Probably by the time we’re all done we have about 30-50 volunteers that come in and out.”
Dinner is open to the public and includes local residents who receive a weekly meal from a local nutrition center. People call to order meals, and delivery is made within 10 miles of the post.
“It’s quite an honor for us to be able to put this together,” Harr said. “And when you deliver a meal to someone that may have had nothing more than a can of soup, and you cook them a whole meal … that’s special.”
Post 55 wasn't the only Legion family helping out others over the Thanksgiving weekend. In Fountain, Colo. Legion Riders Chapter 38 teamed up with local police to deliver 100 Thanksgiving baskets to families in need the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Fountain Police officers identified families, veterans and seniors who were needing a little extra help this holiday season.
Fundraising efforts by both the Riders and the entire Post 38 Legion family pay for the baskets. The Riders also fund an annual community Thanksgiving dinner.
"This mission is very important to the community of Fountain,” Chapter 38 President Dean Noechel said. “Our community is comprised of veterans, active-duty (military) and senior citizens, and our help with the baskets helps them to have a dinner with their families and not have to worry about the financial burden that it may cause. This is our way of giving back to our community and to let them know that we care and are here to help and assist them.”
And in Des Plaines, Ill., Post 36 teamed up with Sam’s Club to provide more than 125 turkey dinners to families in need. The giveaway started five years ago with 35 families. The families are referred to the event by Des Plaines Elementary School District 62.
"A lot are families who are working really hard and just trying to do the best for their children," Jessica Becker, a social worker at Orchard Place Elementary School, told the Daily Herald. "To be able to offer them the opportunity to have something that makes it just a little bit easier is really powerful for them. It's really nice to be connected with The American Legion because they are doing such amazing work out in the community, raising the money to be able to do this."
Some Legion posts opened up their doors on Thanksgiving to those just starting out their military careers. Clark-Eliason Post 352 in Somers Points, N.J., hosted 45 Coast Guard recruits from Training Center Cape May. In addition to being provided dinner, the recruits watched football games, played corn hole and made phone calls to friends and family.
“It’s a good feeling to give back,” Post 352 Commander Bob Frolow told The Press of Atlantic City. “We want to welcome them, treat them good and allow them to relax. We want to let them know they are not alone.”
Three Illinois posts hosted recruits from Naval Station Great Lakes near Chicago. American Legion Post 690 in Palatine hosted three dozen recruits for dinner while providing them with computers and phones to talk with family and friends.
"I remember how difficult it is for these young men and women -- their first major holiday away from family," Post 690 member Fred Hall told the Daily Herald.
T.H.B. Post 187 of Elmhurst also provided an opportunity for recruits to call or email their loved ones, in addition to offering a light breakfast, a full Thanksgiving dinner, and sandwiches and pies later in the evening.
The recruits also were provided a motorcade escort from the naval station to the post that included local and state law enforcement and firefighters. "Most of them don't know where they're going," Past Post 187 Commander Bob Daniels told MySuburbanLife.com. "They're in shock when they get off the bus. It's really something to see."
And Morton Grove Post 134 brought in close to 50 recruits for a meal.
Others Legion posts providing Thanksgiving events for their communities included:
• Post 510, Laceyville, Pa. The post hosted a dinner for veterans from the Gino J. Merli Veterans Center in Scranton and the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center. At the dinner the veterans were greeted and served by students from the Tunkhannock Area Middle School.
• Post 182, Little Elm, Texas. Member of the post join other volunteers in delivering dinners provided by the community to shut-ins.
• Posts 231 and 29, Sherman, Texas. Members of both posts join up with other veterans organizations to provide a Thanksgiving meal to veterans and their families, and anyone in the community wanting to enjoy a meal.