Volunteers’ family tradition: Cooking Thanksgiving dinner at Dakota Woodlands
By Maureen Schriner
Cooking and serving Thanksgiving Day dinner for Dakota Woodlands residents is how Ed and Michele Olson and their children have spent almost every Thanksgiving since 2004. Their day starts about 9 a.m., preparing mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans, and other holiday foods. Staff get the turkeys roasting the night before for Ed to carve in the morning.
This year, Ed, his son Glen and wife Gretchen made the traditional dinner. Glen and Gretchen live in California, but every Thanksgiving travel to Eagan to volunteer. Michele, who is now partially blind, didn’t volunteer this year, but knows the experience well. “It’s taught me a lot about humility and being in another person’s shoes,” Michele says.
An important part of the experience for the Olson’s has been to join the residents to dine together. “If you sit down and eat with them, it lessens the tension,” Michele says. Sometimes they have conversations with the residents, and sometimes not. “The families are just going through such tremendous stress. We are not going to force ourselves on them.”
Neither does her family expect the residents to thank them, although Michele says she has appreciated signed “thank you” cards the family has received from residents in prior years.
For each Thanksgiving Day dinner, Michele notes, “You never see the same people. That’s hopeful, because you want these families to be happy and secure in some place of their own.” On Thanksgiving, and on every night during winter, Michele hopes for warmer weather. “Every time there is a cold night, I think about people living in their cars.” And she hopes those families find their way to the comfort of a warm shelter, and good meals, like Dakota Woodlands.
Volunteers needed in our kitchen daily
For Dakota Woodland residents, mealtimes are more than simply time for food. The families get to relax and not worry about finding food, they get a sense of structure with scheduled mealtimes, and they interact as a community during each meal.
Sign up to serve a meal. Dakota Woodlands needs volunteers seven days a week:
Commit to serving the same day every week, or month, or year. Make it a tradition with family or friends. Contact Shelia for more info: firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Maureen has volunteered at Dakota Woodlands as a tutor, piano teacher and communicator.