Weather Forecast


Officials release names of three people killed in plane crash outside of Thief River Falls

A community affair: Volunteers, guests pack church for annual meal

Danyl Peterson and her husband Phil, along with one of their two daughters, Abbigayl and Patti (not pictured), volunteered at the annual Community Meal along with seven other members of their extended family. This was the family’s first time volunteering at the event. Carrie Sandstrom for the Pioneer 1 / 3
Bemidji State College junior Heidi Jurek helped serve guests at the annual Community Meal. Jurek, originally from Duluth, decided to volunteer when she realized she would be unable to go home for the holidays. Carrie Sandstrom for the Pioneer 2 / 3
Guests flood into the basement of the United Methodist Church for the 34th annual Community Meal. Approximately 300 guests were served at the meal on Thanksgiving Day. Carrie Sandstrom for the Pioneer 3 / 3

Carrie Sandstrom

Special to the Pioneer

BEMIDJI — Danyl Peterson counted off her relatives with her fingers, listing names as she went around the table they shared at the 34th annual Bemidji Community Meal at the United Methodist Church on Thanksgiving Day.

Between her immediate and extended family, 11 had gathered to volunteer and share Thanksgiving dinner with roughly 200 other helpers from the Bemidji community.

“The holidays aren’t just about our own immediate family,” said Marci Plemel, who chairs the Community Meal Committee with her husband, Patrick. “It really brings the community together and it builds something — just like back in with the pilgrims — you know, they build these relationships over food and it feathers out into all other parts of the community … You become this big family.”

This was the Peterson’s first time helping with the meal, helping to deliver food to the 183 people signed up for delivery meals and to serve the approximately 300 dinner guests hosted by the church Thursday.

“I mentioned the idea (of helping with the meal) to my mother-in-law, and my father-in-law said he had been interested in volunteering,” Peterson said. “It’s probably a new Thanksgiving tradition … I look forward to doing this for many years to come.”

Peterson sees helping with the meal as a way of exposing her two daughters, Abbigayl, 7, and Patti, 3, to giving back.

“I think it’s beneficial for the kids,” Peterson said. “I look at it as a way to give back. It’s something fun we can do as a family — something we can do together.”

As with the Petersons, the Plemels first got involved with the meal years ago as a way of exposing their children to giving back.

“We were very blessed and they were very blessed and they had never seen the other side,” Plemel said. “We wanted them to be able to give something, to see what it felt like to give something.”

It would be several years before Plemel would again find herself helping with the meal. Five years ago, she volunteered again, this time as a server in the kitchen as part of her involvement with the Christian Motorcycle Association and Covenant Church. Plemel since has helped with the meal in various capacities. Now, she says she’s found her niche.

“This community is a very giving community,” Plemel said. “I think we get so busy looking at negative stories in the paper and just negativity, that we always see the negative things ... It’s just so good to see that there are good things happening in this community, and that we do have outstretched hands.

“Nobody should have to feel like they have to spend the holidays alone.”

Plemel said the volunteers do everything from food preparation and serving to decorating and cleaning up. At the end of the meal, any leftovers are donated to local charities, including Servants of Shelter and the Hope House. The event, Plemel said, is really a community affair.

“Its become in the community kind of a tradition,” Plemel said. “You know, that’s what the holidays are all about: It’s being thankful for what we have and giving back to those who have less ... People just come back because it becomes part of what they want to do at the holidays.”

Sandstrom is a University of North Dakota student working at the Pioneer this week as part of a class.