October 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

For many, the very mention of the holiday season brings about fond memories and anticipation. But for those without close family and friends, the holidays can be a very lonely time. This is exactly why D.D. Launderville is so passionate about her work as Director of Omaha’s Senior Services Department of The Salvation Army.

For the past 16 years, Launderville has headed up The Salvation Army’s annual Turkey Fest, an event which provides and delivers hot, homemade Thanksgiving meals for those 60 years of age and older, as well as the handicapped, regardless of income. “It’s for people who are alone or lonely and can’t cook anymore,” explains Launderville. “This ensures that they get a really good, healthy, hot meal on Thanksgiving Day. That’s tradition…it’s our holiday and we can’t ignore that.”

The meal is a traditional one, consisting of turkey, potatoes and gravy, green beans, cranberries, a roll, a banana, topped off with a homemade cookie. This year, the meals are being provided by the Knights of Columbus.

Chef Kevin Newlin and Major Catherine Thielke of The Salvation Army KROC Center.

Chef Kevin Newlin and Major Catherine Thielke of The Salvation Army KROC Center.

“We get a lot of Thank You cards and, of all things, it’s the cookie…it’s that homemade cookie, that [people respond to the most],” says Launderville. “You wouldn’t think it would be something like that, but this holiday is so tied into ritual and…brings up a lot of memories.” She says that the gratitude shown for the meal, as well as the personal delivery, touches her heart on many levels. “It lets me know that we do this right.”

Launderville says she is thankful for everyone that contributes their time and energy to the Turkey Fest: drivers, cooks, and those who assemble the dinners. The event, which has been serving Thanksgiving meals for nearly 20 years, is a joint effort between The Salvation Army, The Telephone Pioneers of Omaha, and the Knights of Columbus, as well as many other supporters throughout the community. “We get a lot of discounts [for the food]…community support is very strong.” She adds that several Boy Scout troops will help assemble the meals as well. “There are a lot of different people working as a team.”

Launderville credits the dedication of the volunteers to how smoothly the program runs. The meals are assembled at The Salvation Army’s Kroc Center on 27th and Y streets. Preparation begins Wednesday evening and starts up again at 6am on Thanksgiving morning. “We should be done by noon…delivery and everything.”

“It’s for people who are alone or lonely and can’t cook anymore. This ensures that they get a really good, healthy, hot meal on Thanksgiving Day. That’s tradition.” – D.D. Launderville, director of The Salvation Army’s Senior Services Department

“What’s so neat is that volunteer drivers can take a few meals to the older people, then go home and enjoy their own meal [with their family],” she says. “I know a lot of people with young kids enjoy doing this.”

Though The Salvation Army will take reservations for meals through November 19 (the Monday before Thanksgiving), the actual planning for the event began back in August. Launderville explains that those seniors who will be alone for the holiday can just call in to reserve a meal. “If they have a care-aid or a child that comes and checks on them, I’ll feed them too,” she says with a smile.

The first year of the Turkey Fest, Launderville says 300 meals were served; last year, 1,429 people received meals on Thanksgiving. This year, the group anticipates feeding about 1,500. “Omaha has a growing older population, and I think that every year, we see an increase.” In 2011, several hundred people volunteered to prepare and deliver the meals. They estimate similar numbers this year.

Turkey Fest meals can be reserved by calling 402-898-6023 beginning October 31. Those interested in volunteering to help deliver meals can contact Kay Weinstein, Metro Volunteer Director of The Salvation Army, at 402-898-6000.

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