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Brainerd American Legion offers only delivery, pickup of Thanksgiving dinners

“So with the COVID situation, she, you know, she has a lot of problems going out in public — mostly since a lot of people are opting not to wear masks in public places. She’s always concerned that, you know, she (a cancer survivor) may get sick, and there could be complications.” -- Simon Weissberg of Baxter

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A volunteer server hands a Thanksgiving meal to a guest at last year's community Thanksgiving dinner hosted at the American Legion Post 255 in this 2019 photo. This year, dinners will either only be delivered to area residents by volunteers, the Brainerd Fire Department, Brainerd and Baxter police departments, and the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office, or the free meals can be picked up at the Brainerd American Legion. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Simon Weissberg wasn’t looking for a handout but a helping hand.

The 64-year-old Baxter resident isn’t handy in the kitchen and so he’s grateful for the annual community Thanksgiving dinner organized by the American Legion Post 255 in Brainerd.

“I’m retired, so I’m basically living off my Social Security,” said Weissberg, a former salesman and Navy veteran who is not married and does not have any children. “And the celebration, you know, for Thanksgiving is sitting down and having a big feast-type meal.”

The Legion traditionally hosts a free in-person meal Thanksgiving Day. But due to COVID-19 concerns, the post is limiting its offering to delivery and contactless pickup of meals from the Legion.

“I have known this gal, she’s my best friend for about 15 years now. And she had — before I met her — she had colon cancer and she did recover. But she does have a compromised immune system,” Weissberg said of his search for pre-made Thanksgiving meals to share.

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It’s about being together

Weissberg wanted to celebrate the annual holiday of togetherness with his significant other.

“I’m a good barbecuer, but when it comes to — I’m not great at cooking a big turkey or a big roast — that type of thing,” Weissberg said. “Trying to make all the fixings to go with it, like a green bean casserole and all that other stuff, that’s something I’ve really never done in my life.”

Weissberg said he moved to the Brainerd lakes area in 2013 to get away from the “rat race” and find a place with a lower cost of living than California.

“She actually moved out here after I moved out here to be close to me. And so this Thanksgiving, instead of doing a lot of cooking … she came up with the idea we look for pre-made Thanksgiving meals to just simplify the whole Thanksgiving dinner process for us,” Weissberg said.

Weissberg said he was looking for a local provider of Thanksgiving meals not because they could not afford one but for health reasons.

“So with the COVID situation, she, you know, she has a lot of problems going out in public — mostly since a lot of people are opting not to wear masks in public places. She’s always concerned that, you know, she may get sick, and there could be complications,” Weissberg said.

Weissberg said he was looking on behalf of the cancer survivor and came across other Thanksgiving meal offers like the one by Prairie Bay in Baxter. The restaurant offered a Thanksgiving family meal at a cost.

“You just tell him how many people — like two, four or six — and then they basically get all the food ready for you, and you just go in and pick it up,” Weissberg said of Prairie Bay.

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There also may be additional options in the community.

Brainerd American Legion free community dinner

The Brainerd American Legion has hosted a traditional sit-down, dine-in community Thanksgiving dinner at the post for years. But because of COVID-19 concerns, organizers of the free meal were forced to break from tradition.

“There are many, many families that help every year but because of COVID they can’t or choose not to because of how they feel about it,” said Janelle Fitch, club manager at American Legion Post 255. “But I’d like to see us be able to reach out to as many people as possible.”

The Legion will offer delivery of the free meals from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Thanksgiving Day.

“We have not been able to reach out to as many volunteers that have helped ... so that’s kind of a bummer, you know, just because it is a sense of community when we do it,” Fitch said of the previously in-person annual event at the Legion.

Those who request the Thanksgiving dinner by the noon Nov. 25 deadline also have the option to pick it up from the Legion at 708 Front St. from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 26.

“They’ll drive up to a tent,” Fitch said of the contactless pickup of dinners. “We haven’t decided if it’s going to be in front of the building or alongside of it. But that way someone will run the food out to them, so they don’t have to get out of their vehicle.”

Other Brainerd lakes area clubs involved with the community Thanksgiving dinner, which is a vast undertaking, include the Elks, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Eagles, among others.

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“There’s a lot of elderly who do not have social media that don’t get a chance to actually find out that, yeah, we’re doing it a little different this year, but we still were thinking about you, we care about you,” Fitch said of delivery and pickup. “This is what we can do. We’ll see what happens.”

At last year’s community Thanksgiving dinner at the Legion, there were 810 dinners served, according to Fitch, and organizers of the free-will donation event were expecting the same.

“We don’t know — this is a first for us — so we don’t know what to gauge,” Fitch said. “And, unfortunately, when it’s gone, it’s gone, but it is RSVP-requested, so we’re hoping to get a majority of the people that are going to have it will call us ahead of time.”

Donations, sponsorships

The Legion-organized dinner includes oven-roasted turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, coleslaw, cranberries and a bun.

“We rely on donations and the four clubs, which are the Eagles, the Elks, the Legion and the VFW in town, the local ones in Brainerd, if we can’t get enough donations — which this year has been spectacular, people are so giving — then the clubs pick up all the extra cost,” Fitch said.

The Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office, the Brainerd and Baxter police departments, and the Brainerd Fire Department will deliver the Thanksgiving dinners that are requested.

“What we have is a donation bucket at each of our four clubs,” Fitch said of the Eagles, the Elks, the Legion and the VFW. “But we also take donations from people when the dinners are delivered. You can hand them an envelope, cash or check is fine.”

Leftover Thanksgiving dinners will be donated during the holiday to Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge after 1 p.m. according to Fitch.

Community Thanksgiving dinner

  • What: An annual holiday meal organized by the Brainerd American Legion.

  • When: 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. delivery; and 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. pickup Nov. 26.

  • How: RSVP by noon Nov. 25 by calling 218-829-2249.

  • Cost: Free. (Free-will donations will be accepted.)

  • More info: www.brainerdlegion255.org .

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com . Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL .

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A traditional Thanksgiving meal uses turkey as the centerpiece. Special to Forum News Service

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