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Legion hosts annual community Thanksgiving meal

After the COVID-19 pandemic caused a cancellation last year, the American Legion Post 927’s annual community Thanksgiving Day dinner returned Thursday with enough food for 300 guests.

“It feels really good. We are excited. Many people and businesses from the community read about our event and wanted to get involved,” said Lorrie Murphy, coordinator of the event.

The meal included turkey, ham, bread stuffing with sausage, smashed red skin potatoes, gravy, mashed rutabaga and potato blend, mashed sweet potatoes, green beans, mixed vegetables, cranberry sauce, rolls and butter, pies, cake and apple cider.

Trudy Griffin and her sister, Millie Joseph, have been coming to the Legion on Thanksgiving for seven years.

“Everyone is like family. I especially love the pumpkin pie with whipped cream,” said Griffin.

It has also been a longtime tradition for Sandra and Harvey Messinger, who will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary on Dec. 30.

“It is so delicious that we have some boxes of dinner to take home,” Sandra Messinger said.

Her severe kidney illness keeps her housebound a lot, so she enjoys rare opportunities to get out and mingle with others.

It was a new experience for at least one couple in attendance.

“We just moved here from New Jersey and saw the sign outside for the Thanksgiving meal. We love it here,” said Dean Yatauro.

He and wife Meg ate their meal and then got a few takeout boxes for other family members who did not want to venture out.

Upon arrival, there is a Legion volunteer awaiting to greet the guests and keep an attendance tally. That person is usually Jim Grim.

“It really helps out the community. I see the same faces every year. Everyone is so grateful. This meal makes the holiday more enjoyable and brings the community together,” Grim said.

Thirty volunteers began prepping and cooking the meal on Monday, continued Tuesday and Wednesday and then served it Thursday afternoon.

Murphy said they received 35 donated turkeys and 20 donated hams.

“This is the most we have ever had,” she said.

Weis and Kinsley’s ShopRite also donated generously to the event.

The volunteers spoke of a commitment to community and upholding family legacies.

“My grandfather served under Gen. Patton building bridges during World War II,” Kyle Earling said on Tuesday as he separated white and dark turkey meat into different pans.

Earling has a culinary background, and this was his first year as kitchen manager for the event. He has never served in the military, but he enjoys volunteering at the Legion and sharing his grandfather’s history.

As he worked in the kitchen, American Legion Auxiliary members were in the dining area wrapping silverware.

The Legion will host a drive-thru event with Santa on Dec. 11 from noon to 2 p.m., said auxiliary President Eileen McGuire. Attendees are encouraged to sign up in advance.

“We found it easier to do a drive-thru event. There will be a big sleigh that kids can get into,” she said.

Susan Bush ladles gravy onto Dean Yatauro's takeout meal during Thursday's community Thanksgiving dinner at the American Legion Post 927 in Gilbert. Yatauro and his wife, Meg, recently moved here from New Jersey. This was their first time attending this community event. STACI L. GOWER/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS