Snow may have slowed down hungry Durangoans, but it didn’t stop them from getting to the annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner.
Tonya Wales, coordinator for the event, said the La Plata County Fairgrounds in years past is usually full by 10 to 10:30 a.m. with a line out the door.
But this year, a snowstorm that moved into Southwest Colorado on Wednesday night and brought widespread precipitation to the region, seemingly caused people to arrive a bit later than normal.
“We were full by 11 a.m., Wales said. “I think the fear of the weather slowed people down.”
About 1,200 people typically head to the free-of-charge Community Thanksgiving Dinner for turkey, stuffing and all the holiday fixings. Another 100 to 150 meals are delivered to people who can’t make the trek to the fairgrounds.
Wales said the all-volunteer crew had been working since Tuesday to get all the food prepped. They arrived around 7:30 a.m. Thursday before doors opened a few hours later. In all, the event draws about 350 volunteers, she said.
Local churches and businesses help prepare the event’s 47 or so turkeys. At the end of the dinner, people are allowed to take home seconds. Anything left over is donated to the Durango Community Shelter run by the Volunteers of America.
Over at the dessert table, volunteer and self-proclaimed “pie lady” Marian Hamlen said she’s been donating her time to the dinner for the past 10 years.
What keeps her coming back? “The people,” she said.
For those who have room after the main course, there are about 800 pies, including pumpkin, mince, pecan and all kinds of fruit delights. The pies can be homemade, from the grocery store or donated by local businesses.
Hamlen said the added bonus of volunteering is that you can have a full Thanksgiving meal without all the mess to clean up.
“I don’t want to cook a turkey,” she said. “This way, I can go home and take a nap.”
Durango resident Brooke Goulding was coming off the buffet line around noon. She said the winding, long line was about a 30-minute wait.
What’s the trick for dealing with an empty stomach around all that food?
“You snack a little before you come,” she said.
Terry Olsen, a Durango resident who works at Purgatory Resort, said it was her second time coming to the Community Thanksgiving Dinner. She’s single, so it’s a fun place to run into friends or meet new people, she said.
“I love it,” Olsen said.
For Jenny Martinez, the dinner held a particular significance. The last time she attended the event was 30 years ago, and it holds a special place in her memory.
For various reasons, she wasn’t able to return over the years. But this year, she wanted her grandkids to have the experience.
“It’s amazing,” Martinez said of coming back to the dinner. “I walked in and had tears in my eyes. It’s still very warm. I never thought that 30 years later I’d be able to bring all my grandkids.”
Beth Cugnini has volunteered the past few years, mostly because of the event’s strong sense of community.
“It brings me joy to see all kinds of people in one room, talking to people they may have never talked to,” she said. “It’s community, and we need that desperately.”