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By Jana Peterson
Pine Knot News 

Volunteers display the true spirit of Thanksgiving


November 30, 2018

Photos by Jana Peterson/ Pine Knot News

Volunteers are ready to work in the dining room at the annual free community Thanksgiving Dinner at Zion Lutheran Church Thursday, Nov. 22. The meal is sponsored by the Carlton County Disabled American Veterans chapter, with assistance and donations from many area businesses, individuals and volunteers.

There couldn't be too many cooks in the kitchens at the Cloquet VFW and Zion Lutheran Church Thanksgiving morning - every single one of them was needed.

Organizers figure they served at least 650 people, including deliveries and the many who came to Zion to dine in or carry out the free Thanksgiving Day meals.

"We don't keep track [of each meal] that well, but we had enough food to feed them all," said Dave Johnson, whose son, Raffy, is the driving force behind the community meal, which the Carlton County Chapter of Disabled American Veterans took over last year.

It's a labor of love, says Raffy Johnson, who started his day at 4:30 a.m. putting a total of 40 11-pound turkey roasts in the ovens at the VFW and a special outside smoker/roaster at Zion.

Raffy wasn't the only veteran in the kitchens Thursday.

It had been a long day for Raffy's fellow UPS co-worker and veteran Kris Hanson by that time as well. He'd brought the cooker/smoker unit from Duluth at 5 a.m., then drove back to Duluth to deliver Thanksgiving meals with his children, then returned to Cloquet to help finish up preparations here.

"It's something the kids and I have been doing forever, so I said I'd help out here as long as I could still do that too," Hanson said. "But this is fun. I love cooking and being in the kitchen."

Hanson was joined in the kitchen by Vietnam veteran Don Jensen and Iraq War veteran Gregg Berglund, a member of the 148th Fighter Wing in Duluth, who were busy cooking mashed potatoes. Meanwhile Alex Johnson, 12, and Tanner Birnstahl, 14, were on KP (kitchen police) duty, standing next to the industrial dishwasher in the church kitchen. Outside the kitchen, a small army of volunteers was organizing efforts in the dining hall.

A half-hour earlier, Raffy had stopped by the VFW, where auxiliary members and volunteers Joan Nordin, Marilyn Burggraff, Diane Dahl and others were preparing food to go in the deliveries.

DAV Sr. Vice Commander Gary Dahl joined Raffy to make a plan of action for the volunteer drivers making more than 250 deliveries.

"You want someone fast for Larson Commons and Aspen Arms," said Dahl, pointing out that each apartment building had more than 35 meals on the delivery list.

Dahl has been part of the free annual Thanksgiving Day community meal since it was held at the Armory in Cloquet, then he volunteered for the massive meal held at the DECC in Duluth.

He said it is important to step up and help the community when you can.

Diane Dahl checks the doneness of several 11-pound turkey roasts cooking in the over at the Cloquet VFW Thursday morning. The VFW was command central for Thanksgiving dinner deliveries.

Which is what happened with the DAV, which took over in Cloquet after the College of St. Scholastica pulled out of the outlying communities and consolidated its efforts at the DECC.

"We took it over because we felt it was unreasonable for our county residents to have to drive to Duluth to receive a holiday meal," Raffy told the Pine Knot News last week. "The DAV has a large-enough membership and group of volunteers that it made sense for us to take on this campaign. Plus, we get a lot of support from the community as veterans, and it's another little part of giving back."

Christmas volunteers needed

In less than a month, the kitchen at Zion will be bustling again, this time with volunteers preparing the 25th annual Cloquet Area Community Christmas Day Dinner on Dec. 25. Volunteers are needed to help deliver, prepare and serve the meals, which are free to all. Call Zion at 218-879-4647 to volunteer, order a meal for delivery or arrange for transportation to dine at Zion at 2 p.m. Christmas Day.

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