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Thankful for volunteers, La Crosse Community Thanksgiving Dinner exceeded expectations Thursday

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Surpassing their goals for the event, volunteers served nearly 3,200 meals during the annual La Crosse Community Thanksgiving Dinner Thursday.

Planning Committee Chair and Board Member Ruth McQuiston-Keil said their target was to serve 3,000 people, but they ordered some extra materials as a cushion. They were able to provide 2,200 meals for everyone who pre-ordered through delivery but ran short because of the popularity of the curbside options.

“We are very grateful that we were able to have the dinner this year,” she said. “For a while, we didn’t know if we could proceed with it roughly a week before.”

Despite the ups and downs of planning the event in 2020, McQuiston-Keil said the event as a whole is improved from this experience.

“We didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “It is going to make things a little bit easier now that we’ve gone through it once. This was a hard year, and we had a couple of glitches along the way. It was a big learning year for us, and I think we will be much better equipped for next year. I’m hoping we can go back to how we normally would serve, but if now, we now have a plan b under our belt.”

Because of COVID-19, they were restricted to less than 50 people working inside which included the kitchen crew and those helping with inside transportation. In addition to cutting back on volunteers, some were unable to help on the day of the event for various reasons.

“To all of the volunteers, we are extremely grateful and blessed to have you helping us,” McQuiston-Keil said. “We truly could not have done this without them this year. A lot of them stayed longer than their shift because they knew we were short and there was no one coming in to replace them. People were very adaptable and willing to help with tasks they did not sign up for.”

She specifically recalled a volunteer named Joseph who essentially worked Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from open to close.

“He was a Godsend for us, but to all of our volunteers, thank you for your flexibility and kindness in helping us and the community.”

Kaitlyn Riley’s passion for communications started on her family’s dairy farm in Gays Mills, Wis. Wanting to share agriculture’s story, she studied strategic communications and broadcast journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In college, she held officer positions with the Association of Women in Agriculture and Badger Dairy Club while volunteering as a news reporter for the college radio station. She also founded the university’s first agricultural radio talk show, AgChat. In her professional career, Kaitlyn has worked in radio, print and television news doing everything from covering local events to interviewing presidential candidates, and putting back on her barn boots to chat with farmers in the field. Today, Kaitlyn can be seen covering local stories that matter to you in the La Crosse area.

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