Community, churches work together to provide Thanksgiving dinner

November 20, 2023

Cooks for the Thanksgiving dinner in Council Bluffs

For over three decades, churches and other organizations in Council Bluffs put on a free city-wide dinner for anyone in the community who needs a hot, home-made meal on Thanksgiving Day. 

It started in the basement of St. Patrick’s Church on Harmony Street around 1985 and has grown to include deliveries of over 600 meals each year. 

The meal began when St. Patrick’s parish secretary, Sharon Morris, and nonprofit leader Clint McDowell witnessed first-hand the community need. 

In 2008, the meal was moved to Community of Christ Church a few blocks east of St. Patrick to help accommodate the growing number of meals and guests. 

It takes 40 large turkeys, 200 boxes of stuffing mix, over 300 cans of green beans, 160 cans of cream of mushroom soup, 60 large bags of fried onion rings, 300 paper grocery sacks, 150 foil baking pans and lids, countless paper plates, plastic silverware and serving cups as well as hundreds of volunteers to make this meal work. The meal would not be possible without the help of all the organizations who donate space, time, and ingredients to the effort.

Churches and organizations from all over town donate ingredients, money, and time to the effort. The three Catholic parishes in Council Bluffs (St. Patrick, Corpus Christi, and St. Peter) collect the ingredients for the green bean casserole, stuffing, and pies for several weeks before the dinner. 

The dinner is primarily cooked at Community of Christ Church in Council Bluffs and the gymnasium is used as the headquarters for delivery and carryout. The Pie Committee from St. Patrick Church makes 120 pumpkin pies for the event.  

The families at St. Albert Schools in Council Bluffs donate 500 lbs. of potatoes and Karen Hander, food services director, along with a few dedicated volunteers, chop, cook, and mash the potatoes. A team of young men from St. Patrick Church in Neola pick up the potatoes from St. Albert kitchen and deliver them to Community of Christ just in time to begin filling containers for delivery. 

The gravy is made by former Salvation Army employee Lori Cottrel, who flies in from Florida every year to begin making her family’s famous gravy recipe in Community of Christ’s lower kitchen at 7 a.m. Thanksgiving Day. It takes 20 fresh ingredients, including the stock from 40 turkeys, to make the five stock pots of gravy.

The work begins at 4 a.m. on Thursday morning when the ovens and coffee pots are turned on and volunteers begin to arrive to warm food, sort and bag silverware, and cut and box pumpkin pie. 
The coordination of deliveries is a huge undertaking. Orders are taken over the phone starting the first Monday in November. 

Every year there is a story of true grace. In 2022, a young couple, the wife pregnant, arrived at about 10:30 a.m. They had been walking around Council Bluffs since dawn looking for a place to get a meal. The hostesses just happened to be sorting winter gloves and hats for donation when the couple arrived.

ince it was too early to eat, the couple was given warm coffee to drink, the use of the bathrooms to clean up and gloves and hats for the rest of their journey. After eating, a shelter was recommended, and the couple was sent off with extra food and milk.

Everyone is welcome at the Thanksgiving Dinner. The number to call for reservations, delivery, take out, or to volunteer is 402-973-0213.  Local deliveries only, please. Donations are accepted at any of the Council Bluffs Catholic parishes. Leftovers, if any, are donated to local shelters.