Brainerd American Legion continues Thanksgiving meal tradition

The Brainerd American Legion dropped off meals Thursday, Nov. 24, and also offered a drive-thru pickup service of Thanksgiving meals as it has done in recent years during the holiday. There was no in-person dining, however, from years past because of the pandemic.

A family delivers a Thanksgiving Day meal in bags to the front door of of an older gentleman.
Earl Johnson, left, greets the Kramer family, Sutton, Keri, Rollins and Bobby, a Brainerd firefighter who are delivering meals Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022, in a fire truck from the Community Thanksgiving dinner. Over 1,166 meals were delivered by firefighters from Brainerd and Mission, Brainerd, Baxter Police, Crow Wing County Sheriff's office, Minnesota State Patrol and volunteers. The Community Thanksgiving Dinner is a joint effort by the Brainerd Elks, Brainerd Veterans of Foreign Wars Brainerd Eagles Club and the Brainerd American Legion.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

BRAINERD — The Brainerd American Legion prepared, cooked, delivered and handed out traditional Thanksgiving meals during the holiday to hungry and appreciative local residents.

Post No. 255 traditionally hosted a free in-person meal Thanksgiving Day in years past. But due to COVID-19 concerns, the post began offering delivery and contactless pickup of meals from the Legion in 2020 and did so again Thursday, Nov. 24.

“We've been able to reach more people than ever doing it this way,” said Janelle Sanderson, Post 255 club manager. “And it's more streamlined.”

The Legion delivered the meals from 9-10:30 a.m. during the holiday. Those who requested a meal also had the option to pick it up from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. from the Legion at 708 Front St.

“One year, we did 1,400 people,” Sanderson said of the switch to delivery and pickup. “In past years, we have been doing about 800-ish, 700-ish in house, so we're able to reach way more people because we can do this.”


Randyn, left, and Tiffanie Berg, Briella Eggert, and Heather Isle carry boxes filed with dinners to a waiting fire truck Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022, during the Community Thanksgiving Dinner sponsored by the Brainerd American Legion, Brainerd Veterans of Foreign Wars, Brainerd Elks and Brainerd Eagles.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

More than 1,400 people were served a Thanksgiving dinner during the event in 2020, according to Sanderson, compared to the 810 dinners served at the 2019 in-person community Thanksgiving dinner. From the count on Thursday night, 1,166 meals were delivered and picked up this year.

“All the turkeys are cooked, and always have been cooked, at the Brainerd Legion,” Sanderson said.

The contactless pickup downtown of the free-will donation Thanksgiving meals in 2020 — from a tent set up outside the Legion — proved to be an unexpected hit, according to Sanderson, because people were not traveling or visiting relatives due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Crow Wing County Sheriff's Deputy Chad Paulson, left, waits with a plate while Lori Guin, Ruth Francis, Mackenzie Pratt, Sherrie Bierman and Mike Guin fill the plates Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022, during the Brainerd Community Thanksgiving Dinner at the Brainerd American Legion. The dinner is a joint effort of the Brainerd American Legion, Brainerd Veterans of Foreign Wars, Brainerd Elks and Brainerd Eagles.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

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

Sanderson said she ordered 60 cases of turkeys — there are two turkeys per case, for a total of 120 turkeys in all — for Thursday’s community meal. The turkeys came from Reinhart Foodservice Co., according to Sanderson, and the 90 pies were purchased from Costco.

“The leftover meals will be delivered or picked up by Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge after 1 p.m.,” Sanderson said of the substance abuse and addiction treatment and recovery program provider, which includes a Brainerd campus.

The free community meals included oven-roasted turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, coleslaw, cranberries, a bun and a slice of pie.

Brainerd Community Thanksgiving dinner.
Volunteer Christy Lou Heidelberger makes gravy Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022, at the Brainerd Community Thanksgiving meal at the Brainerd American Legion.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

“The Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office, the Brainerd and Baxter police departments, the Brainerd Fire Department, individual volunteers and the (Minnesota) State Patrol delivered the Thanksgiving meals,” Sanderson said.


Sanderson said the Thanksgiving Day event relies on donations and if the four clubs — the Eagles, the Elks, the Legion and the VFW in town — do not receive enough donations, those clubs pick up all the extra cost involved.

“We have a donation bucket at each place,” Sanderson said of the Eagles, the Elks, the Legion and the VFW locations in the Brainerd lakes area. “But what I'm getting out of this is I just, I love the fact that people just are willing to do so much.”

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at . Follow him on Twitter at .

I cover the community of Wadena, Minn., and write features stories for the Wadena Pioneer Journal. The weekly newspaper is owned by Forum Communications Co.
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