Serving up Thanksgiving


Photos by Chantelle Meyer/Siuslaw News

Kiwanis’ Community Thanksgiving Dinner feeds hundreds

Nov. 29, 2022 — Kiwanis Club of Florence continued its annual tradition of offering a free Community Thanksgiving Dinner on Thanksgiving Day, ultimately serving more than 615 meals in to-go containers from the Florence Elks Lodge #1858.

While slightly unconventional — a predicted national turkey shortage required a menu change — volunteers prepared a traditional feast featuring ham, mashed potatoes, cornbread stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls, gravy, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.

“It just means I’m the turkey this year,” joked organizer Shannon Sheets.

Sheets, Clara Kuhn and Gary Vawter make up the Kiwanis Thanksgiving Committee, and have served together for years. They initially adapted the former sit-down meal located at Florence Elks Lodge into a drive-through version in 2020. Sheets hopes they can return to a community-style meal next year.

Vawter, who manages the Elks Lodge kitchen, and a team of volunteers worked since Tuesday to cube potatoes, slice ham, stir gravy and dish up individual containers of the components. Many of the ingredients were scratch-made in the Elks kitchen.

Then, on Thursday morning, more than a dozen volunteers lined up in an assembly line to dish up Thanksgiving. In total, the team prepared 800 meals.

Between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., Kiwanis, Elks and community volunteers guided people through cones marking the route through the Elks Lodge parking lot on 12th Street, greeting diners, and finding out how many meals each vehicle needed.

During the hour-long distribution, drive-through and walk-up participants claimed 615 meals. Volunteers had prepared a microwave, table, chairs, water and even some extra pie for anyone needing to cook up their meal on location.

Since in past years the food has run out, Sheets saw the abundance as a blessing. The excess meals went to the Florence Helping Hands lunch program and Mapleton Food Share.

“It was good news. … There were many grateful folks,” Sheets said.

It was a day of thanks for many.

“Very thankful to the Kiwanis Club of Florence for their financial support of this free-to-the-community Thanksgiving Dinner, and all you volunteers to make it happen and be successful! Congratulations on a job well done — and done well!” Sheets said.

Now, Kiwanians will step in to help the Elks with their free Christmas Day meal, which should be able to acquire enough turkeys in time.

Additionally, Sheets said the committee plans to meet in December to decide the “five-year forecast” for the Community Thanksgiving Day Dinner, including a review of this year’s event and the mission of the meal.

For more information about the Florence Elks Lodge and its events, visit

For information about Kiwanis and its mission to “serve the children of the world,” visit