It was “organized chaos” at Applebee’s in Salina Thursday, and organizers of the Salina Salvation Army Community Thanksgiving Dinner wouldn’t have it any other way.
The only thing on the menu was turkey, and all the trimmings. People begin lining up outside, in the cold and rain at around 10:00 in the morning, a full two hours before the doors were scheduled to open. The volunteers inside, and the food, were ready to go so they opened the doors about 15 minutes early.
This was the sixteenth consecutive year that Debbie Andrews of Salina has coordinated volunteers for the event. With a smile she described it as “organized chaos” shortly after the doors opened. She tells KSAL News that an event like this wouldn’t be possible without a lot of volunteer help. She says that there were about 15 families among the 100 or so volunteers. She also credits Applebees, the Salina Country Club, and the GL Huyett company of Minneapolis all for making the event possible.
Andrews says that she started organizing the event 16 years ago, and included her then grade-school aged daughter to teach her about the spirit of giving back to the community. For only the second time her daughter was not among the volunteers at the event. She is a nurse, and was working.
Andrews has to miss her own family’s Thanksgiving dinner to be a part of the community event. But she says it’s okay, because over the years some of the volunteers have become almost like family to her.
Along with preparing enough food to feed 1,000 people at the restaurant, volunteers also delivered another 150 meals.
Andrews says there have been some amazing stories in and around the event. One year, a volunteer delivering a meal noticed a broken door, and later returned to fix it. Another time a couple had no way to get to the event, and ended up walking a couple of miles to get there.
The event attracts a very wide range of people, the homeless, those who live alone and are looking for a little companionship, and groups of families and friends who gather to share a meal. Major Mary Burris from the Salina Salvation Army tells KSAL News that she wouldn’t have it any other way. “This is an event for the entire community, all are welcome,” she said.
As the restaurant began to quickly fill with hungry people, it also filled with laughter and smiles.