The Salvation Army was a well-oiled machine Thursday morning as volunteers filled containers with hot meals, decorated tables and welcomed visitors for their annual Thanksgiving feast.
While this is only the second Thanksgiving dinner in Ottumwa for Capts. Oliver and Tabitha Knuth, the local Salvation Army has been providing the dinner since 1999. Other Ottumwa organizations provided Thanksgiving Day meals before then, including RSVP, the YMCA and St. Mary’s.
Last year, the Salvation Army served around 600 meals on Thanksgiving Day, 380 of which were through deliveries alone, Oliver Knuth said.
“We’ve already exceeded that this morning,” Knuth said before the meal began.
By 11 a.m., volunteers had already delivered 435 meals.
“Pam Ward volunteers and helps set up the routes,” Knuth said. “She said that about 56 had called in just this morning.”
Justin Belzer and his fiancee, Dana Ward, were two of the many volunteers helping to deliver hot meals around town Thursday morning. Belzer said he has helped out since he met her five years ago.
“He drives. I navigate,” Ward laughed.
Salvation Army staff make the majority of the food, with turkey provided by Hy-Vee and vegetables provided by Fareway.
“It’s amazing how everything comes together,” Knuth said. “I’m sure I couldn’t do it by myself or without our staff and volunteers. I wouldn’t even want to try.”
Knuth said the holiday is a great way for volunteers to give back to and help the community.
“For us, it’s a way to help those in need,” Knuth said. “Obviously there’s a need in the community. With the economy the way it is, until it starts to improve, I see our numbers going up and up.”
The free Thanksgiving dinner is open to anyone and everyone, Knuth said.
“It’s great for coming down and enjoying company and fellowship,” he said.
Toby Mitchell, the Ottumwa Community School District’s truant officer, has been volunteering at Salvation Army for the past 11 years.
“My parents are missionaries in Paraguay, so that’s how I started doing Thanksgiving here,” Mitchell said.
She said the Salvation Army’s dinner has become much more streamlined and organized over the years.
“They have an assembly line system and more and more volunteers every year to help with deliveries,” she said.
This year, the Salvation Army even expanded its deliveries to Eldon, Agency and Eddyville.
And people donated more than 400 desserts for the deliveries, including pies, cakes, cookies and brownies, as well as 100 for those who made the trip to the center.
This was Rachel Morgan’s first year volunteering at the center.
“I heard about it on the radio yesterday and thought it would be something nice to do,” Morgan, an Indian Hills student from Fairfield, said. “There are a lot of people we don’t know about who don’t have family or who can’t afford a nice meal. It’s good to know someone is thinking about them on a day like today.”
Morgan said she definitely plans to continue volunteering during next year’s holiday season since the Salvation Army staff and volunteers threw her right into the mix.
“It was great and the people here are very welcoming,” she said.
Another volunteer said the number of volunteers who turn out for the effort is rewarding for the city of Ottumwa. She said it would be nice if people showed this sense of giving all year long.
“I think it’s wonderful,” said Carolyn Staub, a volunteer. “There are a lot of people alone on Thanksgiving.”