For the past 12 years, Melissa Taylor has been bringing community members together over turkey with all the trimmings during the Solon Cares Thanksgiving Dinner. Her motto: “Everyone is welcome.” Her favorite part: Seeing people from all walks of life sit down together and share a meal.
The Solon Springs woman plans to hold the free meal again in a new curbside version. Plates will be served drive-thru style from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 26 from the Solon Springs Community Center. Participants will receive pre-portioned food instead of serving themselves from a buffet. The dessert and drink options have been pared down, but the rest of the menu will be the same.
“It’s going to happen,” Taylor said, because there’s still a need for it.
Doug Nagle, past president of the Solon Springs Lions Club, cooks a turkey for the effort every year. He agrees it will look different this November because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The idea is to be able to sit down with others at a meal,” Nagle said. “We can’t do that this year.”
Safety is key, as is feeding those who need it.
“There are a lot of homeless people in this area,” Taylor said.
Some people may not be able to travel this year, others may not have the funds to put together their own Thanksgiving meal. All are welcome to participate.
“It’s never been about finances or income status,” Taylor said. “It’s always been about, ‘Here’s an opportunity for a meal you would not otherwise have.’”
Taylor plans to spend the day before Thanksgiving cooking the food up. An array of volunteers will help assemble and hand out to-go meals on Thanksgiving Day. Those picking up meals should follow the signs.
The number of participants has grown annually. This year, Taylor expects to prepare enough food for 300 meals. The shopping list is long: eight 25-pound turkeys, 25 bags of stuffing, 100 pounds of sweet potatoes, 300 servings of mashed potatoes, 40 pounds of canned corn, 300 dinner rolls, three gallons of gravy, 30 pumpkin pies, 360 cookies, 200 cartons of milk and 200 bottles of water.
There have been added costs, as well. Taylor had to purchase catering utensils to properly portion food, 300 silverware packets and to-go plates instead of the usual 100.
A number of donors, including the Solon Springs Lions Club, Mertz Rookey Insurance, Solon Auto, Super One Foods and Franny K's Country Foods, have stepped up to help. Some traditional donors, however, have not.
“Businesses were hit hard this year. They’re struggling, I respect that,” Taylor said. “I’ve been told ‘No’ by a few.”
The Lions Club hasn’t held a fundraiser since its February ice fishing contest, but they continue to support local efforts, from delivering meals to virtual students in the Solon Springs School District to helping finance the Thanksgiving meal.
“It’s just something we do,” Nagle said. “We always help out the community, which is what Melissa’s been doing for years.”
Anyone who wants a meal is welcome to pick one up. Taylor said she hopes having the Thanksgiving meal option will help take stress off families.
Anyone interested in donating financially or volunteering can contact Taylor at 715-816-0773. Volunteers are needed for the 8-10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. cleanup shifts.