SIKESTON -- On Thanksgiving Day, Marlene Stevens truly believes she is in the presence of angels.
"I call my volunteers 'angels in street clothes,'" said Stevens, coordinator of the annual Thanksgiving Day community dinner. The meal is geared toward the elderly in Sikeston, Morehouse and Haywood City who don't have a place to go on Thanksgiving Day.
"The important thing is that strictly everything to do with this is volunteer," said Linda Bollinger, who also organizes the meal. "We're relying on the generosity of people in the community. And it's not a church group, it's just whoever wants to help."
Last year, the dinner fed about 700 people, 90 percent of which were senior citizens. The dinner has grown by about 100 each year since Stevens began spearheading the event in 2004, so she anticipates about 800 will be fed this year.
And preparing a meal that large takes several volunteers. People are needed to volunteer their time by helping with the cooking and delivering of the meal, as well as to open their wallets by donating food or gift cards to purchase supplies for the meal.
The meal includes turkey, dressing, green beans, corn, sweet potatoes, ham and dessert. In the coming weeks, organizers will take meal tickets to senior citizen housing locations to tell the elderly about the meal and ask for their orders. Seniors can choose to have their meal delivered, or to eat at the VFW building.
"Most of the meals are delivered," said Stevens. "Most of (the senior citizens) don't want to come out because they don't have a way or they're just used to staying at home."
Deliveries begin at 11 a.m., and the doors open at the VFW for those who choose to eat out at noon. "And last year, we were all done at 2," said Stevens.
Organization makes the dinner efficient. And the few hours of commitment make it easier for people -- especially families -- to help out on Thanksgiving Day.
"There are a lot of people that help whose kids are grown and can't come home for Thanksgiving," said Bollinger. "And some families celebrate on other days, such as the weekends."
There are several ways people can help out. Volunteers are needed Thanksgiving morning to prepare the meal. Help is also needed Tuesday and Wednesday of that week to cut ingredients, and on Wednesday, when the dressing is made.
"People who want to volunteer and can't come on Thanksgiving Day can give us an hour or two earlier in the week," suggested Stevens.
Individuals can also help ensure there are plenty of food supplies.
"We ask for the donation of desserts from the community on Thanksgiving Day or the day before," said Stevens. "If you're having Thanksgiving dinner yourself at home and can bake an extra pie and bring it, that's great. That makes people feel like they're doing something, too."
With the rising food costs, Stevens expects a higher food bill this year. "I can probably safely say that everything is going to double," she said. So, food donations, as well as gift cards to Food Giant and Wal-Mart are suggested.
The organizers asked those who plan to bring desserts to notify them beforehand. Last-minute donations are accepted, however.
Some schools get in on the action with food drives. For instance, Lee Hunter Elementary School has already pledged to collect and donate items for the meal, and Stevens said she expects other schools, which have done so in the past, to also contact her about upcoming drives.
"We're just thankful for anything we can get," she said.
Any food left over from the meal is donated to the House of Refuge or similar organizations.
"We're not going to waste it," said Bollinger. "We find a place to take it."
She and Stevens agreed that by helping others through the meal, they are able to get into the real Thanksgiving spirit -- and see that in their volunteers, too.
"Everybody is on a high that day -- everybody feels good about it," said Bollinger.
Stevens added: "It's just a good feeling at the time of year that we're thankful for what we do have and are able to share it with other people."
Donations for the annual Thanksgiving Day community dinner are now being accepted.
This year the meal will be prepared, served and/or delivered from the VFW building on Smith Street in Sikeston.
Wal-Mart and Food Giant gift cards will be accepted for the purchase of food and other items. Food items may also be donated, including: institutional cans of corn, green beans, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, chicken broth and cream of chicken soup. Turkeys may also be donated, but those giving are asked to notify one of the organizers beforehand to make arrangements to deliver it early for thawing.
Gift cards may be mailed to Marlene Stevens; 212 Kate Drive; Sikeston, MO 63801; or Linda Bollinger; P.O. Box 281; Benton, MO 63736. Canned goods may be dropped off at 212 Kate Drive or call 471-8697 or 545-3679 to have them picked up.
Volunteers are also needed to prepare and deliver the meals. For more information, or to sign up to help, call the numbers above.