Talk about an early bird special.
On Thanksgiving day,about 150 diners flocked to the Transamerica building on Edgewood Road NE in Cedar Rapids for a free turkey dinner, while volunteers boxed and delivered around 900 additional free meals — each at an average cost of $9.68 to produce — to seniors in the Cedar Rapids community.
“We try to make it really special, it is a sit down dinner,” said Cindy Nodorft, the corporate communications manager for Transamerica. “It started out being a tradition for senior citizens to get together who were otherwise alone.”
And in the more than 30 years that Transamerica has been hosting this event — in partnership with Aging Services, Inc. — Nodorft said the volunteer effort has grown and that many of this year’s 200 volunteers are complete families.
Mary Chizek, her husband Don, and their three children who are now 26, 23, and 20, began volunteering 10 years ago at the Thanksgiving dinner.
“This is the first year she has missed this,” said Mary Chizek, of her daughter Katelyn. “My daughter lives in Oklahoma, she has already texted me three times, it has been a part of her world.” (Story continues below photo gallery)
The affair began around 4 a.m. with food preparation, and was completed by the early afternoon. But while the whole process is rather quick, one first-time diner said he was impressed by the overall experience.
“I was most impressed we were served instead of going through a line, it was like being at an upper class restaurant,” said Tom Hill of Fairfax. “They make it feel more like a family event than a free meal.”
And while the meal was free, there was no skimping on what was offered: roast turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, dressing, green beans, rolls, cranberries, and an assortment of pies were provided.
“The food is very good,” said Karen Kessler, a Cedar Rapids resident who has regularly attended the Thanksgiving dinner. “I am alone, so it is a treat for me to come here. They are such nice people, they even greet you at the door.”
The dinner at Transamerica was not the only free turkey being served int the Corridor.
At the Iowa City/Johnson County Senior Center, about 60 locals were fed a free meal, with another 70 – 100 additional meals delivered from the center to area seniors.
Meals were served by members of the Optimist Club of Coralville and were cooked by employees of Elder Services Inc.
“For me, it is a blast, that is why I do it,” said Kenneth Evans, an assistant cook for Elder Services.
The food was primarily served to residents of the Ecumenical Towers living facility, which is attached to the Senior Center.
“If we didn’t do it, the residents wouldn’t have a meal,” said Howard Lewis of the Optimist Club. “They are really happy, they always come over and thank us for having a meal for them.”
But one tower resident — 78-year-old Janet Suchomel — idly waiting for her food was not an option.
“I feel better getting up and doing something to help the other people get their meals,” she said of the 30 years she has been volunteering at the Senior Center Thanksgiving dinner. “I know I don’t play a major part, but every little bit helps. I enjoy doing it.”