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Bar 209 partners with Bemidji United Way to bring Thanksgiving meals to those who need them most

United Way volunteers had a lot on their plate this week as they prepared hundreds of Thanksgiving meals for low-income families in Bemidji. But according to United Way of Bemidji Area Executive Director Denae Alamano, it wouldn’t have been possible without the Bar 209 owners Brett and Derek Leach.

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From left: Bar 209 owner Brett Leach and volunteers Joy Hoffman and Elisha Barry prepare mashed potatoes on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022, while preparing Thanksgiving meals at Bar 209 in Bemidji.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI — United Way volunteers had a lot on their plate this week as they prepared hundreds of Thanksgiving meals for low-income families in Bemidji.

But according to United Way of Bemidji Area Executive Director Denae Alamano, it wouldn’t have been possible without Bar 209 owners Brett and Derek Leach.

“This is our partnership with Bar 209 and Red Stu to do Thanksgiving meals for the United Way’s partner agencies,” Alamano said during the meal prep on Tuesday. “We’re really grateful to (the Leach brothers) for wanting to do this and realizing there’s a big need to serve the community.”

It all started a few years ago when Derek and Brett decided to make Thanksgiving meals for people who needed them most.

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Bar 209 owners Brett, left, and Derek Leach pose for a photo on Monday, Nov. 22, 2022, while preparing food for the United Way Thanksgiving meals.
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“We started this program on our own to begin with, I remember we didn’t sleep at all on that Wednesday before Thanksgiving Day,” Brett said with a laugh. “We pulled an all-nighter trying to prepare all these meals and we were so stressed out, burned and sweaty.”

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Having never done something like it before, the brothers overestimated the amount of food to make. They decided to reach out to United Way to help them distribute the extra meals. After getting in touch with Denae, she told them the United Way could provide more families if this was something they wanted to continue doing.

“That was like three or four years ago, then (volunteers) started to come in and it turned into this really fun event,” Brett said. “This year, I think almost everybody in here all returned after last year because they enjoyed it so much.”

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Volunteers prepare green beans on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022, for the United Way Thanksgiving meals at Bar 209 in Bemidji.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

The program the brothers started years ago with just a few meals to a few families, quickly turned into 100 families and 800 meals that they proudly send out into the community, according to Brett. He’s very thankful for the extra helping hands in the kitchen over the years.

“It went from us on Thanksgiving morning being so tired and taking a nap the whole day to now we have about 40 families or so that show up and help us deliver,” Brett said. “It’s a really fun morning compared to what it was before.”

From Nov. 21-23, the brothers and lots of volunteers prepped over 800 Thanksgiving meals in Bar 209’s kitchen from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. The restaurant-quality meals are free to low-income families while volunteers go the extra mile to deliver them on Thanksgiving morning.

The United Way invests local funds to support Partner Agency programs and services that help support local families. A few of their partners include the Boys and Girls Club, Village of Hope and the Bemidji Community Food Shelf.

“(Our partners) receive vouchers that they can give to their clients who would benefit from an in-home, high-end gourmet meal that actually gets delivered to them by other volunteers on Thursday morning,” Alamano said. “It's my favorite week of the year and most of our volunteers feel that way, too. It's a lot of work, but it's becoming something that is a lot of fun.”

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United Way of Bemidji Area Executive Director Denae Alamano prepares food on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022, for Thanksgiving meals at Bar 209 in Bemidji.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer
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Owner Derek Leach slides the turkey into the oven on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022, while preparing Thanksgiving meals at Bar 209 in Bemidji.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer
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Volunteers prepare green beans on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022, for the United Way Thanksgiving meals at Bar 209 in Bemidji.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

Maggi is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer focusing on outdoor and human interest stories. Raised in Aitkin, Minnesota, Maggi is a graduate of Bemidji State University's class of 2022 with a degree in Mass Communication.
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