Manna soup kitchen mobilized quickly to provide residents with a free Thanksgiving meal after hearing the annual Durango Community Thanksgiving Dinner at the fairgrounds would be canceled for a second year because of COVID-19.
Organizers of the community dinner reached out to Manna a few weeks ago after noticing a local spike in COVID-19 cases, and asked if the soup kitchen would be willing to do a second year of to-go style Thanksgiving dinners.
“Originally, they thought they’d be able to do the dinner, but as COVID-19 numbers went up, they thought it was best to work with us to facilitate to-go meals,” said Manna Director Ann Morse.
Morse said Manna was happy to take on the community meal for the second year. Manna feeds people in need every day, but she said it is even more special to give back during the holidays.
“We feel really special to be a part of the community, and be able to provide a meal on a special day,” she said.
Meals were packed with all the classic Thanksgiving favorites, including turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, brown sugar-glazed carrots and pumpkin pie.
“We have a really awesome stuffing that Christ the King Lutheran Church made; it’s bulked-up stuffing,” said Manna sous chef Mitchell Lipska. “It’s got sausage, celery and onions.”
Lipska said he lost count of how many turkeys were prepared for the event, but he said he thinks it was 40 whole turkeys and 100 turkey breasts.
In the kitchen, Manna volunteers and board members stuffed take-out boxes full of food in an assembly line.
“Durango is such a great place to live, and to be able to give back to folks who are unhoused, or might be food insecure, is huge,” said La Plata County Sheriff’s Office spokesman and Manna board member Chris Burke.
Marissa Hunt, Manna’s resource center manager, said the soup kitchen hoped to feed about 500 people, but had enough food for whoever showed up.
“It can be a lot harder to get your hands on food during the holiday, so we want to make sure that folks have a healthy, nutritious meal made with love,” she said.
By the end of the event, Manna had handed out about 600 meals, up from 498 in 2020.
While everyone was welcome to pick up a to-go meal at Manna, the soup kitchen had volunteers driving meals to people who might be physically unable to make it.
“We’re sending meals to the Lumien Apartments, Purple Cliffs and a number of other places,” Morse said. “We have a lot of volunteers who have driven meals around for years with the community Thanksgiving that are dropping off meals with specific families as well.”
Hunt said around 250 meals were to be delivered to various places.
Around 30 meals were dropped off at the new Espero Apartments for its community members to grab in the complex’s common area.
The Espero Apartments opened last month, and were developed by Housing Solutions for the Southwest specifically to provide housing for those who earn 30% of the area’s median income or below, have been homeless or are living with a disabling condition.
“So many of the people who live here have been alone for a long time. They may be alienated from their families, or separated from the people they care about,” said Brigid Korce with Housing Solutions for the Southwest. “Manna provides such high-quality meals, and it just gives people the sense that their community cares for them, and that they’re taken care of and loved.”