Volunteering at the Durango Community Thanksgiving Dinner is a family affair for Josh and Heather Freeman.
On Thursday morning, the Freemans’ daughters, Bailey, 14, and Zoe, 11, joined them at the dessert table in the Exhibit Hall at the La Plata County Fairgrounds.
“This is our third year here, and we’ve been volunteering ever since we moved here from Connecticut,” Heather Freeman said. “We love the community spirit in this town, and a chance to be with friends and neighbors. Who can resist serving at the desert table? We have the sweetest job.”
The Freemans were only a fraction of the 245 volunteers gathered for the 31st annual Thanksgiving dinner.
Charlie Sanchez said he felt drawn to volunteer after his mother died. More than 20 years later, he was coordinating beverage preparation for the event.
“After my mom passed away, the meaning just wasn’t there anymore,” he said. “This is really fulfilling. It’s not really a needy thing, it is a get out and get together kind of thing.”
Volunteer coordinator Gordon Clouser said people “come out of the woodwork” to pitch in to help.
“Sometimes, more people volunteer than I can accommodate,” he said. “There are times I have to turn people down because there are so many.”
Clouser said teams of volunteers carved 46 turkeys for more than 1,300 meals this year, and delivered more than 140 meals to people around La Plata County. Leftovers will be taken to the Durango Community Shelter.
Romelle Maloney, a retired volunteer of 15 years, previously coordinated decorating the exhibit hall. Last year, she passed the torch to Jodi Riddle.
On Thursday, she choked up as she watched people line up to receive their meals.
“It is so wonderful to see the increase every year to socialize and eat,” she said. “I praise God for this whole thing. It is so fulfilling.”
Maloney said it was “hard to back away” after volunteering for such a long time.
“If you got paid to do this, it wouldn’t mean as much,” she said.
Her successor, Riddle, was gearing up at the beverage table for her second year as a volunteer.
“I’ve never volunteered for something quite like this before, it is amazing,” she said. “It is gratifying to be a volunteer. Somebody’s gotta help out.”