RACINE — Thousands had a free hot meal at Racine's Festival Hall on Thursday for the annual Dan & Ray's Rendering Thanks Thanksgiving dinner.
"I chose a little bit of everything because it's looking nice and juicy and plentiful," said Traneda Malott, who attended with colleagues from a local assisted living center. Residents of the center came along, too.
"It gives an opportunity for the community to get together as well as individuals that have come to the community," said Malott.
All walks of life from Racine and around southeast Wisconsin came for the dinner from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
This was Dan Johnson and Ray Stibeck's 12th year organizing the meal, but last year, because of Covid-19, they offered only carry-out dinners.
According to Johnson, volunteers served hundreds of meals within the first 35 minutes of opening. For many, the chance to be together is just as important as the food.
"We'll have someone that’s a retired businessman, very well to do, or businesswoman, and they’ll sit together next to someone who’s no so well to do," said Johnson.
"And they develop a friendship. And they meet up around the same time every year and share stories. And sometimes they even get together outside of the event."
Other folks, like Tim and Jean Myers, came to be among others because their kids are out of town for the holiday.
"I think it's wonderful," said Jean. "Dan and Ray have done a fantastic job. We've come just about every year since they started. And of course it's delicious."
For $50, anyone can sponsor a table. Hundreds do just that, and all the money raised, more than $20,000, according to Johnson, pays for the meals.
And sometimes, there are other donors.
"Some guy who came in to pull apart turkeys gave us $1,000. And people like that are so happy to see something happening like this," said Johnson.
Especially during a very challenging year right here in southeast Wisconsin.
"I'm really grateful to be here. I want to say how sorry I am for people in Waukesha. And i hope everyone is doing well out there," said Will Shirley, a dinner guest.
And the meal wouldn't be possible without volunteers like Sally Madden, who waited to try the pumpkin pie until after everyone else had been served.
"To be able to reach out to people who may be alone; who may be sad; who knows what their stories are," said Madden. It’s so nice to be able to help.”