BEMIDJI -- Karen Oftelie is especially thankful for two things this year: volunteers and the Bemidji Eagles Club.

After a holiday community meal hiatus in 2020, due to the pandemic, the tradition of hot meals returned this year as delivery-only with preparations being done at the Eagles. Oftelie, an organizer of the Thanksgiving and Christmas meals, has been involved for years and said they’re breaking the record this year for how many meals were on the road to homes in Bemidji.

More than 280 meal boxes of the traditional turkey meal and all the fixings were en route around 11 a.m. Thursday for the 41st Annual Community Holiday Meal and they were put together by a whopping 75 volunteers at the Bemidji Eagles Club.

“You cannot believe how many I’ve had to turn away,” Oftelie said of the volunteers. “It’s been amazing.”

Volunteers organize meal boxes for the 41st Annual Community Holiday Meal on Thanksgiving, Nov. 25, 2021, at the Bemidji Eagles Club. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
Volunteers organize meal boxes for the 41st Annual Community Holiday Meal on Thanksgiving, Nov. 25, 2021, at the Bemidji Eagles Club. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

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Nearly 300 meals were delivered to homes for the 41st Annual Community Holiday Meal on Thanksgiving, Nov. 25, 2021, at the Bemidji Eagles Club. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
Nearly 300 meals were delivered to homes for the 41st Annual Community Holiday Meal on Thanksgiving, Nov. 25, 2021, at the Bemidji Eagles Club. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Prep began at the Eagles on Wednesday evening from 5 to 7 p.m.

In a pre-COVID year, meals would be served at and delivered from a local church.

“Well, this year, things are different and we couldn’t really find a church that was big enough to hold everything that we needed to do,” Oftelie said.

She said the Evangelical Free Church could have worked for their operations, but with COVID still looming, a sit-down meal just didn't make sense.

“All we had to do was ask the Eagles if it was available,” Oftelie explained. “They kind of took over.”

With supply chain issues, this was especially welcomed, Oftelie added. “There’s so much food that’s back-ordered that you can’t even get things,” she said.

“We don't even have to go out and ask for rolls or anything,” Oftelie said. “They just ordered it all for us. It’s just amazing. It’s such a Godsend.”

Volunteer Carter Thorson, 12, center, loads up meals to be delivered for the 41st Annual Community Holiday Meal on Thanksgiving, Nov. 25, 2021, at the Bemidji Eagles Club. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
Volunteer Carter Thorson, 12, center, loads up meals to be delivered for the 41st Annual Community Holiday Meal on Thanksgiving, Nov. 25, 2021, at the Bemidji Eagles Club. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)