Those looking for a free Thanksgiving Day meal and who enjoy the company of others need to look no further than the Brainerd American Legion and Little Falls Community High School.

Both are offering a Thanksgiving meal, and free-will donations will be accepted to help defray the costs of providing the meal to anyone who would like to enjoy one.

“We will be serving a traditional turkey dinner, so we have turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberries, coleslaw, and offer milk or bottled water. And we also have pie,” Legion General Manager Janelle Fitch said. “And we have green bean casserole.”

The community Thanksgiving Dinner will be 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 28, at the Brainerd American Legion, 708 Front St.

“You don’t have to be poor to come in here. We have families that come in here just because it’s a space where everybody can get together,” Fitch said of Thursday’s community event. “This year, we’ve kind of reached out and found that no one else is doing it to my knowledge.”

To arrange for home delivery Thursday, contact the Legion, the Brainerd Elks lodge, the Brainerd Veterans of Foreign Wars post or the Brainerd Eagles aerie by noon Wednesday.

“The state patrol, firemen, Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office, ambulances — whoever that is available — and they do all the deliveries, and last year we did about 350 deliveries … with about another 300 meals served at the Legion,” Fitch said.

Excess funds raised through the meal will benefit The Salvation Army.

“You don’t have to pay a dime. Traditionally, each of the clubs has a jar, and we all just take donations … and each year, with the donations, clubs have not had to pay anything because the people coming in give so much,” Fitch said. “But we can always use donations.”

Volunteer Carlie Eggert serves a meal to Wally Hanson Thursday, Nov. 22, 2018, during the Community Thanksgiving Dinner at the American Legion in Brainerd. Volunteers from the Elks, Eagles, VFW and the American Legion cooked and served 643 meals in 2018. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch Gallery and Video
Volunteer Carlie Eggert serves a meal to Wally Hanson Thursday, Nov. 22, 2018, during the Community Thanksgiving Dinner at the American Legion in Brainerd. Volunteers from the Elks, Eagles, VFW and the American Legion cooked and served 643 meals in 2018. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch Gallery and Video
In the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims — early settlers of Plymouth Colony — had a three-day feast to celebrate a bountiful harvest, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and many regard this event as the nation’s first Thanksgiving.

“Me, myself, I’ve worked every Thanksgiving all my adult life, and I just enjoy giving back,” Fitch said. “We have the same families that sign up to volunteer to help serve the meal every single year. We haven’t needed volunteers since I’ve been doing this, so it’s just kind of a nice thing.”

Fitch said it costs about $3,000 to provide the annual Thanksgiving Day meals in the Brainerd lakes area. Donations can be mailed to the Brainerd American Legion, preferably with checks made out in the Legion’s name.

Cooking for the community Thanksgiving dinner starts Sunday, Nov. 14, and Monday with carving of the 19 cases of turkeys Tuesday and Wednesday.

About 30 miles south of Brainerd, another community Thanksgiving meal will be offered for free 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday at Little Falls Community High School.

“It’s going to be real turkey, real mashed potatoes,” said Tim Sumner, one of the organizers of the Little Falls event.

Sumner said about 80 volunteers are needed to help make the gathering in the school commons a success. Those interested in volunteering should call Sumner at 320-632-2540.

“The main point for me is to have the community come together and enjoy a meal and time together, fellowship together … and talk with each other,” Sumner said.

Sumner said about 475 meals were served last year at the Little Falls event. Donation boxes will be set up at the registration table to help defray the cost of providing the meal, or donations can be mailed to Jason Swedeen, 18892 205th Ave., Little Falls, MN, 56345.

“We have people like the Franciscan Sisters (of Little Falls) who plant potatoes, weed the potatoes, harvest the potatoes and then they peel the potatoes and give them over to us,” Sumner said.

Businesses interested in providing an item to be given away in a drawing will be identified as a supporter of the community event. They may contact Sumner to make arrangements for items to be picked up, and those who need a ride to the meal may also contact him, too.

“We’re trying to make it possible for everyone to come who can be there,” Sumner said.

“We try to get people to stay rather than just eat, get up and leave, and one of the ways we do that is when they come in and receive a name tag, there’s a number on the name tag that we are attempting to do a drawing every 30 minutes for something that’s been donated.”

People can also support the community endeavor by supplying baked goods such as pies, cakes, cookies and other desserts, which can be dropped off at the school after 8 a.m. Thanksgiving Day.

“Sometimes we will have too many desserts, and we will include those in the drawings, but it’s not a bake sale, it’s not to raise money. It’s to feed the people that come,” Sumner said.

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