Brainerd American Legion continues the Thanksgiving meal tradition – Brainerd Dispatch

BRAINERD – The Brainerd American Legion prepared, cooked, delivered and distributed traditional Thanksgiving meals to hungry and grateful local residents during the holiday season.

Post #255 has traditionally hosted a free Thanksgiving in-person meal for the past few years. But due to COVID-19 concerns, the Post Office began delivering and contactless pickup of Legion meals in 2020 and did so again on Thursday, November 24.

“It’s allowed us to reach more people than ever before,” said Post 255 club manager Janelle Sanderson. “And it’s leaner.”

The Legion delivered meals during the holidays from 9-10:30am. Those who ordered a meal also had the option to pick it up at the Legion at 708 Front St. from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“In one year we served 1,400 employees,” Sanderson said of the move to delivery and pickup. “We’ve done about 800 to 700 in-house over the past few years, so we can reach a lot more people because we can do this.”

Community Thanksgiving
Randyn, left, and Tiffanie Berg, Briella Eggert and Heather Isle carry boxes of dinner to a waiting fire truck Thursday, November 24, 2022 during the Brainerd American Legion, Brainerd Veterans of Foreign Wars, Brainerd sponsored Community Thanksgiving Dinner Moose and Brainerd Eagles.

Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

According to Sanderson, more than 1,400 people were served Thanksgiving dinner during the 2020 event, compared to 810 dinners served at the 2019 personal fellowship Thanksgiving dinner. From Thursday night’s count, 1,166 meals were delivered and picked up this year.

“All turkeys are cooked and always have been cooked at Brainerd Legion,” Sanderson said.

The contactless pickup of downtown 2020’s volunteer Thanksgiving meals — from a tent pitched outside the Legion — proved an unexpected success, Sanderson said, as people weren’t traveling or visiting relatives due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Community Thanksgiving
Crow Wing County Deputy Sheriff Chad Paulson, left, waits with a plate while Lori Guin, Ruth Francis, Mackenzie Pratt, Sherrie Bierman and Mike Guin take the plates Thursday, November 24, 2022 during the Brainerd Community Thanksgiving Dinner im Brainerd American fill legion. The dinner is a joint effort by the Brainerd American Legion, Brainerd Veterans of Foreign Wars, Brainerd Elks, and Brainerd Eagles.

Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Other clubs in the Brainerd Lakes area involved in the community’s Thanksgiving dinner, which organizers said is a huge undertaking, include the Elks, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Eagles.

Sanderson said she ordered 60 cases of turkeys — there are two turkeys per case, for a total of 120 turkeys — for Thursday’s community dinner. The turkeys were from Reinhart Foodservice Co., according to Sanderson, and the 90 patties were purchased from Costco.

“Leftovers are delivered or picked up by Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge after 1 p.m.,” Sanderson said of the provider of substance abuse and addiction treatment and recovery programs, which includes a Brainerd campus.

Complimentary communal meals included oven-roasted turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, coleslaw, cranberries, a bun and a piece of cake.

Brainerd Community Thanksgiving Dinner.
Volunteer Christy Lou Heidelberger makes gravy at the Brainerd Community Thanksgiving dinner at the Brainerd American Legion on Thursday, November 24, 2022.

Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

“The Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office, Brainerd and Baxter Police Departments, Brainerd Fire Department, individual volunteers, and the (Minnesota) State Patrol provided the Thanksgiving meals,” Sanderson said.

Sanderson said the Thanksgiving event relies on donations and if the four clubs — the Eagles, the Elks, the Legion and the VFW in town — don’t receive enough donations, those clubs will cover any additional costs associated with it.

“We have a donation bucket at every location,” Sanderson said of the Eagles, the Elks, the Legion, and the VFW locations in the Brainerd Lakes area. “But what I get from that is I just love the fact that people are just willing to do so much.”

FRANK LEE can be reached at 218-855-5863 or at

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