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IC Church's free Thanksgiving meal marks decade of service

IC Church's free Thanksgiving meal marks decade of service

November 24th, 2017 by Bob Watson in Local News

Carissa Van Hunnick and fellow volunteers box up Thanksgiving dinners at Immaculate Conception. This year marked a decade of the church's free holiday meals.

Photo by Mark Wilson/News Tribune

Cindy Schnieders and her family attended The Salvation Army's Thanksgiving Dinner about a dozen years ago "and saw the big need there," she said Thursday afternoon.

"We decided, 'OK. We can do this, too.'

"And we've got such a great community and family at IC, that I knew all I had to do was say, 'Can you help us?'

"And they do."

And Immaculate Conception Catholic Church's annual Thanksgiving Dinner was born.

The first year, Schnieders said, they served 60 people.

"It's grown by about 200 every year," she said Thursday.

This year — a decade after that first meal — they planned on serving 1,200, with more than 600 meals delivered to people's homes and to a satellite service for residents of the Hamilton and Dulle Towers.

Roger Schwartze, the former MoDOT district engineer and Jefferson City Public Works director, helped supervise this year's delivery volunteers.

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"We have folks who organize the lists of people who call in to have their meals delivered," he said. "They sort the list by location, from west to east — it helps to have deliveries made more quickly if you can have deliveries that are grouped close together."

He said volunteers had delivered meals "all the way from Osage City to Elston — and we had one north of the river."

Schnieders said the annual dinner isn't a competition with the long-running Salvation Army or the First Baptist Church dinners but is an additional service for "anybody who wants a warm meal or a place to go for Thanksgiving."

The two-hour Thanksgiving Day event thrives on volunteer help.

"All of this is donated from the people," she said. "Some will bring a big can of corn or a sack of potatoes.

"But it adds up."

A cooking crew came last Sunday to prepare the 45 donated turkeys, "and help get all the meat off the bones. We put it in big containers with gravy," then kept it at a nearby store until it was time to serve the meal.

Other parts of the meal, like the potatoes and dressing, were prepared Wednesday.

Jude Meldrem was working on the dishwasher crew Thursday, cleaning pots and pans.

"My wife is here. Our daughter's here," he said. "It's something to teach our daughter that this is a good thing to do, to help out other people when you can — even when it involves the smallest thing."

He said the work benefits the people who do it as well as those who receive the meals.

There's no cost. No free will donations are requested.

Leftovers, if any, are offered to The Salvation Army, and any unopened canned goods are donated to the Samaritan Center.

Schnieders said she launched the program with help and support from her husband, Mike Schnieders.

He said back then: "Are you sure you want to get into this?"

But he has no regrets.

"This is God's work," Mike Schnieders said. "The Holy Spirit's guiding us.

"There are miracles that happen every year; last year, before it started, we didn't have even half enough desserts.

"I told them, 'Just serve desserts until they're gone.' We had desserts left over at the end of the day."

Cindy offered another example.

"There are people who didn't sign up, who just walked in and said, 'May I help you?' at the very moment today when I was looking for somebody to help," she said.

Alli Echelmeyer, 12, attends IC School and was one of Thursday's helpers, serving food and drinks and distributing some of the to-go boxes.

"My mom asked if I wanted to do it because I did it last year and it was fun," she said. "I like helping people."

Years from now, she said, "I hope I remember that I did this for a good cause; if I came here, I would like to have people do what I did for them."

Helias High School sophomore Olivia Hennon, 16, said she joined her parents in helping with Thursday's dinner.

"It's always been on our bucket list to serve here — but we usually are out of town on Thanksgiving," she said.

This year, they delayed travel plans so they could help.

"We've been serving drinks, cleaning off the tables and re-setting the spaces when folks leave," she said. "Whenever something needs to be done, we just step in and help."

Although many of the volunteers and supporters attend IC, the dinner is a community event, and some of the volunteers come from other churches and other denominations.

Some who ate were poor.

Some were homeless.

Some just came because they have no families nearby with whom to share the holiday meal.

Several who ate dinner in Kertz Hall, the grade school's cafeteria, had big smiles and high praise as they left.

Hennon said: "You can tell the joy in people's faces.

"You can tell when some people haven't eaten in awhile, and they're really excited to get that nice meal."

Meldrem said: "Be thankful for what you have.

"And share with others."

"It's pretty amazing to see all of these people work together," Mike Schnieders added.