BEMIDJI -- One small but effective word sums up the 40th annual Community Holiday Meal at Evangelical Free Church on Thanksgiving Day: full.

It was a full house of all ages as 65 volunteers fed about 240 hungry diners -- their plates full with turkey and dressing and all the fixings, including a slice of pumpkin pie for dessert.

“If you look around, you’ll see all these families and all these people who wouldn’t have any other place to go for a Thanksgiving meal,” Kathy Luepke, an organizer of the Community Holiday Meal, said.

“But it also means that Grandma doesn’t have to cook, so she brings everyone here,” Luepke added.

By the end of the day, 249 meals were also expected to be delivered to homes around the community, Luepke said. These meals were to be specially delivered to homebound individuals unable to attend the event.

However, it was a sea full of smiles for those who could come out, and the sound of cheerful voices carried throughout the room, backed by the festive melodies of talented violinist, Lenore Siems -- a new addition to the feast this year.

And when asked how their meal was, a tableful of joyful diners enthusiastically nodded and grinned in between mouthfuls and reaches for rolls and butter.

“Holidays can be really lonesome, so people are always welcome here,” Luepke said. “They don’t have to sit at home alone.”

She went on to explain how a group of women -- repeat attendees to the supper each year -- have made it a tradition to attend every Thanksgiving meal rather than spending it alone.

“They’ll just meet every year here, and they’ll sit and eat and talk together,” Luepke said. “I think that’s just neat, it’s that togetherness.”