Organizers looking for more in-house diners at this year’s Topeka Community Thanksgiving Dinner
Food and cash donations -- along with more volunteers -- are still needed for 56th annual dinner on Thursday
TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Organizers are looking for a bigger in-person crowd on Thursday than was the case a year ago as the 56th annual Topeka Community Thanksgiving Dinner will take place at a new location.
The free dinner will take place from noon to 2 p.m. Thursday inside the spacious confines of the Stormont Vail Events Center’s Exhibition Hall, near S.W. 19th and Topeka Boulevard.
Doors will open around 11 a.m. so those wishing to arrive early can enjoy coffee and conversation.
In previous years, the dinner has been held at the Agriculture Hall, on the north side of the Stormont Vail Events Center property near S.W. 17th and Tyler.
Before that, other dinner locations included the Kansas National Guard Armory near S.W. 27th and Topeka Boulevard; and the former Topeka Municipal Auditorium, at S.E. 8th and Quincy.
A year ago, some 2,000 meals were served at the annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner. Of those, organizers said, about 1,700 were delivered to area homes by volunteers, while about 300 people turned out to eat at the Ag Hall.
It marked the first time in three years that in-person dinners were served at the Ag Hall.
In 2020, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Hungry Man frozen turkey dinners were distributed across the city in the days leading up to Thanksgiving.
Then, in 2021, meals were prepared at the Ag Hall but all of them were delivered to individual homes.
Organizers were hoping for up to 1,000 people to turn out for the 2022 dinner at the Ag Hall to break bread together once again.
Braun said there were several factors for the lower turnout for in-person meals in 2022, and he expects more people to attend in person this time around.
“A big reason our numbers were lower in-house last year was because some of the other great organizations around town decided they would throw their own dinner,” Braun said, “just based off the years before with COVID.
“We’ve been in contact with them, and a lot of them are sending over their people here -- they’re not going to have the dinners this year. So we expect our numbers to be closer to the thousand in-house that we usually have -- hopefully more, now that we have all this extra space.”
With the 56th annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner just two days away, Braun on Tuesday morning said food and cash donations are still needed for the event.
Food items still needed as of Tuesday morning included large cans of green beans; canned yams; jellied cranberry sauce; instant mashed potatoes; gravy mix; stuffing mix; white sugar; cans of evaporated milk; and brown sugar.
Braun said food donations can be dropped off from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. both Tuesday and Wednesday at the Stormont Vail Events Center’s Exhibition Hall.
Those dropping off food items can bring them through the box office entrance, which is located near the northeast corner of the Stormont Vail Events Center.
Volunteers also will be on hand to provide curb-side service for those wishing to drop off donations without leaving their vehicles.
Cash donations also are welcome and can be dropped off at any CoreFirst Bank & Trust or Envista Credit Union location in the Topeka area.
The dinner, which is run entirely by volunteers and funded by donations, dates back to 1968, a couple of years after the 1966 Topeka tornado.
Early organizers included Grant Cushinberry, Pauline Johnson and Addie Spicher.
Over the years, more than 1,000 dinners have come to be delivered on an annual basis to individual homes and senior high-rises in the Topeka area by volunteers.
Still, hundreds of people are expected to be on hand for in-person dining on Thursday at the Stormont Vail Events Center’s Exhibition Hall.
The cut-off for requesting home-delivered meals was this past Friday.
Should there be extra food after everyone has been served, organizers said, it will be donated to agencies including the Topeka Rescue Mission, Let’s Help and Doorstep.
A few volunteer spots -- especially for cleanup after the dinner -- also remain open.
To check on volunteer opportunities for Thursday’s dinner, visit www.trmonline.org or call 785-354-1744.
Copyright 2023 WIBW. All rights reserved.