A Thanksgiving tradition heads to homes across Grand Forks

Feast deliveries made with hopefulness, despite pandemic.

Dianna Strebig and Aaron Robson work on prepping ingredients for making stuffing at the Northlands Rescue Mission Wednesday. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

It was about noon on Thanksgiving Day when Barb and Greg Murphy approached the foyer of John Kamesch’s apartment building, bags of stuffing, turkey and pumpkin pie in tow.

The Murphys were two of a few dozen volunteers Thursday at Northlands Rescue Mission, which moved its annual meal to mark the holiday out of nearby St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and into hundreds of homes across Grand Forks. A novel coronavirus nixed the usual large-scale gathering, so volunteers spent part of their Thanksgiving delivering meals straight to people’s front doors.

“I honestly have always wanted to do this,” Barb Murphy said. “Just because there’s so many people that need it.”

Kamesch said he’d normally head to Colorado to visit family, but the pandemic means he spent Thanksgiving alone this year. He had a Zoom call with his sister earlier that morning.

“I wanted to get something for myself because all my relatives are far away,” Kamesch told the Herald. ”The holidays are tough, so I’m just grateful there’s services available for me.”


For employees at the mission, the meal is something akin to their version of Black Friday. Aaron Robson and Dianna Strebig are cooks there, and they spent Wednesday preparing tray after tray of stuffing, then got up early Thursday to start baking them for the hundreds of boxes of food that went out the door.

“What would you do in the day leading to knowing you had to cut onions? 50 pounds of onions?” Robson asked the Herald jokingly as he chopped his way through one of several bags of them in the mission’s kitchen. (The mask he was wearing as a coronavirus precaution seemed to keep his eyes from watering, he noted.)

But they didn’t work alone: Staff at Texas Roadhouse cooked the mission’s turkey, and students at Central High School baked its pies.

“We’re all blessed for this day,” Strebig said. “Seeing everybody come together, it’s awesome.”

Last year, staff at the mission prepared enough Thanksgiving meals for about 300 people, according to Sue Shirek, its executive director. This year, they made about 660.

“We have seen a significant increase in number of community members coming to get a meal on a normal day, so we know that dollars are tight, food is short,” Shirek said as she and three other people used electric knives to cut slices of bread, five, six, seven at a time into small pieces for Robson and Strebig’s stuffing. “There are more people who are maybe in need, as well. People who maybe can’t go shopping because they’ve got COVID and need or would love to have that same opportunity to have their turkey as well but can’t.”

Shauna Lorenzen, kitchen manager at the Northlands Rescue Mission, left, and Northlands director Sue Shirek, right, work on making stuffing for the annual Thanksgiving dinner. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald


About 460 of the meals staff and volunteers at the mission made went out for delivery, another 100-plus were “to-go” plates for anyone who showed up, and a few dozen more were for “clients” who are staying at the mission.

One of those clients is Derrek Walker, who’s been living at Northlands for more than a month. He drove to Grand Forks from the Washington, D.C., area for a fresh start, Walker said as a Detroit Lions game played on a TV in the mission’s dining hall, and he hopes a new job at Columbia Mall will net him enough money for an apartment.

His plan for the day?

“Turkey and football,” Walker said.

Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

You can reach him at:
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