EFFINGHAM — For some community members like Julie Ohnesorge, the Effingham County FISH Community Thanksgiving Dinner was the beginning of a new tradition.
Ohnesorge and her son, Nathan Ohnesorge, both of Effingham, and son Cody Grove of Beecher City enjoyed the free meal for the first time Thursday.
Julie Ohnesorge said she and her sons decided to have their Thanksgiving meal at the St. Anthony Church Parish Center because they can no longer gather at her parents’ home for the holiday.
“We normally have a family get-together, but things have changed for our family. My dad passed away a couple years ago, and my mom’s at Brookstone (Estates) so this year, we’re not having a family get-together because of our situation,” Julie Ohnesorge said.
At the meal, Julie Ohnesorge’s sons were able to enjoy their Thanksgiving favorites — mashed potatoes and gravy for Nathan and ham and turkey for Cody.
Julie Ohnesorge, her sons and the other meal attendees were treated to a plate of turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, corn, stuffing, cranberry sauce and rolls with pumpkin pie and a chocolate candy treat made by coordinator Susan Elke.
Elke said the meal, in its 15th year, was the biggest one yet. She said over 400 meals were delivered to the homebound and elderly, and over 650 meals were served overall, including the food served at the parish center.
Elke, who is also in charge of coordinating the meal volunteers, said it’s those volunteers who make the day of the meal run smoothly.
“The volunteers have just been wonderful,” Elke said. “A lot of volunteers are ones that have done it for years. They can take over and know what to do.”
Among some veteran volunteers were some new faces this year. Jeff and Barbara Carter of Effingham just moved to town a few years ago and decided to give back to an organization that helped them get on their feet when they moved here.
“When we moved back to the United States, we didn’t have anything, and the FISH organization gave us clothes and other things,” Barbara Carter said. “When I saw that they were needing help on this day, I was like ‘this is what we do.’”
The Carters had done mission work in Belize, located in Central America, where they volunteered at an orphanage. The Carters said they wanted to continue their volunteer work while back in the states and decided the FISH dinner was a great way to do so.
The couple has 11 children, and the majority of them are foster children. Jeff Carter said it was important that their children be included in Thursday’s volunteer efforts so they could see that “it’s better to give than to receive.”
The community will have another chance to enjoy a free holiday meal from the Effingham County FISH Organization come Christmas day. The annual free Christmas dinner will be much like the Thanksgiving meal and will start Christmas day at 11:30 a.m. at the Effingham Event Center.
Those wishing to attend the meal or who wish to have a meal delivered can begin RSVPing on Monday, Dec. 2, by calling the Effingham Senior Center at 217-347-5569. To volunteer, contact Elke at 217-868-5913.