Almost as soon as the doors opened, a flood of people began flowing into the fellowship hall Thursday, Nov. 28, at Zion Lutheran Church in Cloquet.

More people than ever showed up to take advantage of the third annual community Thanksgiving meal sponsored by members of Chapter 18 of Disabled American Veterans.

The DAV began organizing the meal in 2017 after the College of St. Scholastica chose to consolidate its annual Thanksgiving operations into one large meal at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center. While meals could still be delivered to Carlton County residents, no meal was available in the area.

Raffy Johnson — a UPS driver and DAV member — previously delivered meals for the DECC dinner on Thanksgiving, but the lack of a community meal in Carlton County concerned him.

The unexpected winter storm Wednesday morning was one of the reasons why.

“A lot of people were prepared to travel and not prepared to cook,” Johnson said. “As we saw with the recent weather, it’s unfair to ask people from Cloquet to drive down to the DECC.”

Johnson found a partner already prepared to host a big meal when it started in 2017. Zion hosted the CSS meal for many years before the consolidation. Zion also has hosted a similar community meal on Christmas Day for the past 26 years.

The DAV had received 272 orders for deliveries before the meal even started. The delivered meals were prepared at Cloquet’s American Legion, but many people came to pick up meals after weather canceled travel plans.

Cloquet's Roger Maki and his wife had planned to celebrate Thanksgiving in the Twin Cities with family. The slick roads persuaded them to stay closer to home and pick up Thanksgiving dinner at Zion.

Johnson estimated there were 80-100 volunteers helping prepare and deliver meals between the two locations at Zion and the American Legion. The volunteers weren’t just Cloquet or Carlton County residents.

Christine Morris and her daughter Lucia are from Wayzata, Minn., but helping out at the Zion dinner has become a tradition for them. Christine grew up in Cloquet, and started helping out at the dinner in 2018.

Christine Morris (left) and daughter Lucia Morris, 10, direct guests to the fellowship hall during a Thanksgiving community meal Thursday, Nov. 28, at Zion Lutheran Church in Cloquet. Jamey Malcomb/Pine Journal
Christine Morris (left) and daughter Lucia Morris, 10, direct guests to the fellowship hall during a Thanksgiving community meal Thursday, Nov. 28, at Zion Lutheran Church in Cloquet. Jamey Malcomb/Pine Journal

Kris Hanson of Superior works with Johnson. Instead of staying home on Thursday watching football, he was outside manning the wood-fired grill cooking turkey.

It was all worth it, Johnson said, to make sure that as many people in Cloquet as possible had a chance to get a traditional Thanksgiving Day meal.

Volunteers needed for Christmas dinner

Zion still needs volunteers to help prepare, serve and deliver its annual Christmas Day community meal. For more information or to volunteer, call the church at 218-879-4647 or email Janice Laurie at zlutheranchurch@msn.com.