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Soul Food

Communities come together to share Thanksgiving meals

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LAKE COUNTY — Communities throughout Lake County came together on Thanksgiving Day to ensure that no one went without a meal. 

In St. Ignatius, the community dinner comes together largely by word of mouth. Local Kimimi Ashley doesn’t remember the date when it started, but it began when people would come to her door looking for help. The need made apparent, Ashley said it was put on her heart to do something for the community. 

The first year, Ashley said, she’d reached out on Facebook to announce the Thanksgiving dinner and asked if anyone would like to help. A husband and wife team that had just moved to town stepped up and they all met in person for the first time on Thanksgiving Day when they put the meal together. It all just kept going from there. 

“It’s just come together with people donating and plenty of helpers,” Ashley commented. “Everyone’s really generous.”

Word spreads online about what’s needed for each meal and neighbors join in with what they can provide. Ashley said one woman this year provided all the ham and gravy that will be served with the meal. As for financial donations, both businesses and individuals contribute so the group can buy what they need.

With around five regular volunteers, Ashley explained they get 10-15 different people each year as members of the community get the urge to help. Held at the St. Ignatius Senior Center, after two years of offering only take-away dinners due to COVID, this year the team was once again able to offer indoor dining as an option.  

Those interested in contributing assistance or resources for next year’s meal can reach out to Ashley via Facebook or look for her postings on the SKQ Voices page at: The team also holds community dinners every month that people can support. 

“I’m Christian, and there’s so many verses in the bible about helping people,” Ashley stated. “One of them has to be that you can tell someone, ‘I’ll pray for you for help,’ but if you don’t step up and help them yourself, what have you really done? (So) that’s a big thing, putting your faith into action.”

In Ronan, Tribal Waves and the Ronan Chamber of Commerce hosted the community Thanksgiving dinner for around 250 guests from all walks of life, including the elderly, families, and the homeless. After a year of takeaway meals only, the group was able to offer sit-down meals as an option last year and once again for this year.

Primarily spearheaded for the last four years by a group of friends from Tribal Waves, Rita Ulutoa explained that the dinner fit right into the community service the nonprofit ministry was already doing. “We enjoy getting to know more of the community members and being able to serve in that way,” Ulutoa commented. 

Around 25 people come together each year to put the dinner together but other groups within the community help in other ways. Ulutoa explained that local businesses and organizations donate the turkeys, local families cook and bring them to the event, a group carves them up and another group serves them. Then there’s a group that comes along to bus the tables and clean up. 

“The community is a big part of it,” Ulutoa stated. “They provide the turkeys and the pies and the dinner rolls.”

Those interested in volunteering for next year’s meal or contributing monetarily can give Rita a call at 406-871-1648, or reach out via the Tribal Waves Facebook page at:

“I’d just give a big shoutout to the community for always pulling together to meet the needs for the community during Thanksgiving time,” Ulutoa said. “It’s really nice to be a part of a community that … everyone always wants to help. It’s definitely a team accomplishment.”

The biggest Thanksgiving production in the county - the Polson Community Thanksgiving Dinner (PCTD) - served its 23rd annual meal this year from the Elks Lodge on Main Street. With what coordinator Tracy Plaiss described as an army of volunteers, the freestanding organization was estimated to have cooked over 1,600 meals from scratch – including ham when the need went beyond the 50 turkeys for reserved meals – all free to anyone who wants one.

Born from a Thanksgiving meal originally served at the Polson Senior Center years ago for the elderly without a place to celebrate, Plaiss said the meal just grew from there. With the use of commercial kitchens donated throughout town and a fleet of delivery drivers to take meals to homes in the Polson area – within reason – PCTD was able to keep going even in the face of COVID. 

“This is not the type of event that just stops,” Plaiss commented. During 2020, due to a lack of staff and COVID concerns, the organization was no longer able to hold the annual meal at the senior center. However, because they had served 550 meals the previous year and knew how great the need was, they figured out a modified option thanks to using the Elks Lodge. Many of the Thanksgiving volunteers are also Elks members. We went on to serve nearly 1,100 meals that year, Plaiss stated. 

“We’re able to do this because of the continued donation support of some of the corporations in the area and individual donations from people who understand how big a project this is and how important it is to this community,” Plaiss said. 

While many of their individual donors remain anonymous, corporations such as Super 1 have been supporters since the beginning. Super 1 helps obtain supplies, allows them to use their fridges and freezers for storage, and they make donations. Franz Bread has donated all the bread needed to make the stuffing for the last 15 years, and Lake Seed, also known as Lake Potatoes, donates hundreds of pounds of fresh potatoes each year. The Salvation Army through the Helping Hands Fund, the Elks Lodge and Walmart are also supporters. 

Those interested in contributing to next year’s meal can mail a check to the Elks Lodge at 512 Main Street, Polson, MT 59860, and specify in the memo line that it’s for Thanksgiving, and the money will be stored in an account until next year.

“Our goal is to never have to say to somebody ‘no, we don’t have any more food,’” Plaiss stated. “As of yet, we’ve never had to turn anybody away.”

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