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GOOD WORKS | Onalaska & Holmen Community Thanksgiving Dinner

Good Works: Jean Lunde, Onalaska & Holmen Community Thanksgiving Dinner

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Now in its 12th year, the Onalaska and Holmen Community Thanksgiving Dinner serves free meals on Thanksgiving Day to more than 1,700 people, including military families, people spending the holiday alone and front-line service workers who can’t be with their families. The dinner is hosted at the Onalaska National Guard Armory each year, with support from the Onalaska Hilltopper and Holmen Rotary Clubs. The volunteers behind it aim to build community and camaraderie through the event.

Jean Lunde is one of the core organizers, along with Dan Ferries and Shawn and Dani McAlister.

Where and what can one find you doing after the dinner on Thanksgiving?

You can find me relaxing at home with my feet up after some long months securing contributions, organizing and ensuring the event ran smoothly. Each year, as most people who put together events know, it is a year-long process of soliciting donations, purchasing products, organizing and the actual day of the event, which can be relatively chaotic at times. On Nov. 1 each year, we open up the website for volunteers to sign up and are so grateful for each and every one of them who make our jobs a little easier. The day before and the day after are also a little chaotic with set-up, tear-down, returning items to storage and the cleaning process.

Who would you choose if you could have dinner with any famous person?

I would have dinner with Mother Teresa. She had sincere compassion and love for humanity, and was very organized and a true humanitarian. One of her quotes says it best: “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”

What would you wish for if a fairy godmother could grant three wishes for your organization?

First wish: That we are fully funded each year through the generosity of our businesses, communities, philanthropists and organizations. We sincerely appreciate the area we live in and those who are able to give so generously.

Second wish: There were no food insecurities or mental health issues, and families were closer, so we could all enjoy Thanksgiving as families, like in the good old days. This event started in 2011 with the thought of serving others sitting home alone during the holiday, those who work in the service industry and those in need.

Third wish: With the wave of our fairy godmother’s wand, the organizing and cleanup were done. After the event, we find ourselves exhausted from the preceding days and weeks, and we are so grateful for all the volunteers and Rotarians who step up to help ease the process.

How does a turkey earn a pardon? Every year before Thanksgiving the White House holds a national turkey presentation, where the president grants clemency to one lucky gobbler. It's an tradition with origins that are a little ... feathery.

This year's Thanksgiving travel season will be the biggest since the start of the pandemic and the third largest for travel in the last 20 years. CNN's Pete Muntean reports on the viral tips and hacks to beat the holiday rush.


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